Did you know there are some limit setting imposters? Parenting behaviors that look like limit setting, but are not. Things like lecturing, warning, deal making, encouraging, reminding. Any of these make an appearance at your house? I found that most of the time when I thought I was setting a limit, I was actually not. For the love, how many times do I need to remind someone that they have ONE HOUR a day on the XBOX!!!! I needed help so I decided to do some research on how to set limits in a way that wouldn’t leave me exhausted, angry and resentful.
Here are some clues that you may need some work on your limit setting.
- You leave the conversation feeling frustrated, manipulated or ignored.
- You repeat yourself over, and over AND OVER!!!!! but nothing ever changes.
- You obsess about their bad behavior.
If this is how you feel after setting a limit, then you probably did not SET a limit.
I found an analogy that has taken my limit setting skills to the NEXT LEVEL!! Here it is: the rules in your house should be like GRAVITY. Gravity is steady, impersonal, unwavering, it JUST IS. There is nothing to explain, argue, or justify. When your children get out of bed and their feet are planted firmly on the ground, they don’t look at you incredulously and say, “MOM!!” If they trip and fall, they don’t get mad at gravity. Gravity JUST IS.
The household rules and limits can be like the Law of Gravity. Here’s what we can learn from gravity:
Gravity is predictable. Do you warn your kids about gravity? Do you repeat yourself for fear they might forget? “Kids, remember, if you trip, gravity will cause you to fall.” Our limits need to be the law, like gravity. Predictable limits don’t require reminders, they JUST ARE. The phone goes in the charging station before bed. This is the limit. If the phone is not in the charging station at bedtime, the law goes into effect and the phone is gone for the next day. Talking about losing the phone does not bring about the same results as actually losing the phone!
Gravity is not a reaction. It does not change because you have ADHD. It doesn’t feel sorry for you because you’re tired. Gravity happens for everyone, all of the time. Limits are not a reaction, they are the rules you set forth for your household ahead of time. What are your limits on the phone, bedtime, clothing choices, video games? These things should be setup and consistently enforced with a simple If/Then. IF you keep your phone in your room at night, THEN I will collect your phone from you. IF you leave your room messy, THEN your xbox will be turned off until your room is clean. IF you fight over the tv with your sister, THEN the tv is turned off. Reactive limit setting sounds more like, “I’m tired of arguing with you, I’ll take your phone now.” “Your room is a pigsty, no XBOX the rest of the week!”
YOU DO NOT FIGHT GRAVITY. When children trip and fall, they expect it. Proper limit setting leads to kids taking responsibility for their own mistakes. When a limit is enforced like gravity, kids resist it less. It’s just part of the fabric of their life. It’s not something to be fought, it JUST IS.
Gravity is consistent. Gravity doesn’t happen 1 out of 4 times. It is there all the time, steady and predictable. So should our limits be. When the girls argue over the tv and I feel the urge to provide a warning, I STOP. Recognize this for what it is. Ineffective. Lazy. I pull myself up by the bootstraps and follow through. I Imagine that I AM GRAVITY. The same way, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Otherwise you are creating an intermittent reinforcement schedule, like a slot machine, your warning is their payout. Even if you don’t payout again for the next 5, 6, 7 times, the behavior will persist because of that ONE TIME you let it go. So follow up, like clockwork, every single time.
So when your kids question your limits, expect a short period of unrest and uprising. They will complain, they will ask you why, they will argue. For awhile. My favorite response, “I might be crazy, that’s just what works for me.” or “I choose to have phones away after 7 PM because I choose to have phones away after 7 PM.” (This one really boggles their mind). You don’t have to prove it. You don’t have to explain it. The kids don’t have to agree with it. Like gravity, IT JUST IS.