Deirdre’s Top Tips
for Setting Boundaries & Limits

Studies with children have found that the children of non-authoritarian and non-punitive mothers/fathers have higher levels of affective and cognitive empathy and pro-social behaviour. Therefore, it is crucial that we set firm, consistent and fair boundaries and limits but within these to communicate empathy and understanding in helping the child to notice where their behaviour could be better or where they could have made better choices. The word Discipline comes from the Latin word ‘disciplina’ meaning to ‘TEACH’
Children need Parental Modelling of Empathetic Relationships towards them and other individuals so that they can learn how to communicate in a gentle manner, develop and build skills for reasoning, self-reflecting and become responsible for their behaviour/actions. They also need to understand that at times their behaviour has consequences. This helps to

How to Set Limits & Boundaries while Keeping a Loving Connection with your

Effective discipline depends on a loving, respectful relationship between adult and child. Discipline should never include threats or humiliation, cause physical pain, scare children, or make them feel that the adult is the enemy. Discipline should feel safe and loving to everyone involved.

*The goal of discipline is to TEACH. We use discipline moments to build skills, so kids can handle themselves better now and make better decisions in the future. There are usually better ways to teach than giving immediate consequences. Instead of punishment, we encourage cooperation from our kids by helping them think about their actions, and by being creative and playful. We set limits by having a conversation to help develop awareness and skills that lead to better behaviour both today and tomorrow.

*The goal should be for our kids to learn important skills—like improving their ability to control themselves, manage big, angry feelings and consider the impact of their behaviour on others. Punishment might shut down a behaviour in the short term but teaching offers skills that last a lifetime

Step by Step Approach to
Setting Limits and Boundaries

1. Connect with the Child Emotionally, Stay in the Moment, Identify what they need Right Now and try to figure out what they are actually Communicating. Acknowledge their Feelings & then try to look at the ‘Why’ – look beyond the behaviour and ask yourself Why are they behaving this way? What is behind the behaviour? What do they Need? When they are
2. HOW you SAY something is Crucial. Get BELOW your child’s eye level, communicate comfort – add touch, nod your head in understanding and use facial expressions that show you ‘feel’ and ‘hear’ them.
3. Even when you don’t like their behaviour, avoid talking about this right now and validate their feelings. Resist talking, lecturing, asking Why or explaining why you are upset/disappointed. Now is the time to repeatedly communicate YOU UNDERSTAND their feelings, listen and look for the meaning and the
4. After you have Listened, REFLECT back to your child what was said so that you understand fully their emotions and behaviours. This helps them to feel
5. Once children have felt heard it is now time to REDIRECT – talk with them about their behaviour. This will help them develop skills for empathy and for insight into why their behaviour was unacceptable and how they can make better decisions in the future.
6. Redirect by – Short, Simple & Brief explanation of why their behaviour is unacceptable. Reduce your words. Once addressed move on.
7. Children need to know that it is OK to Feel different Emotions. ‘You can Feel whatever you need to Feel but you Can’t always do whatever you want to do’
8. Describe the Behaviour – Don’t Preach e.g. ‘those words seem like really mean words to use with your sister’ rather than saying ‘Stop talking to your sister like that’. Call attention to the behaviour you saw rather
9. Involve your Child in Discipline Process – This helps them to feel Respected and part of the Problem Solving. E.g. how could we avoid this happening again? What could we do differently? What would help you with
10. Reframe a ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’ e.g. We are very busy this evening so Yes you can go to Tom’s house, just not today, you can go tomorrow. Keep focusing on the Positive – rather than ‘No whinging’ say ‘I like it when
★ Nonverbal Cues –

Nonverbal communication plays a big role in the Connect and Redirect strategy. Small changes in your behaviour can make a huge difference. Be non-threatening, get below their eye level, keep a neutral facial expression, have open body language e.g. open

★ Remember to ALWAYS try to Connect before you Redirect!

★ Be Consistent and Fair in the Few Specific Rules that you Set

★ Don’t threaten Consequences that you Can’t or Won’t Follow Through on

★ Be Flexible not Rigid within the Rules – at times it is ok to slightly change a rule depending on circumstances

★ Avoid labelling child as ‘good/bad’ always label the behaviour. Reward positive behaviour with positive consequences

“Caring for Children is a dance between setting appropriate limits as caretakers and avoiding unnecessary power struggles that result

Deirdre Ward: Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist & Play Therapist (B.Ed., MIAPTP)
Tel: (085) 1780736
Email: info@unlockirl.ie