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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Structure and Limit Setting (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

This Week's Topic: Structure and Limit Setting
            Children need structure and limit setting to foster healthy social-emotional development. You may be wondering what they mean exactly. Together, they mean the general framework of how you want to parent your children and how your family functions.  Examples include things like house expectations or rules, schedules for different routines like bedtime, meal time, homework times, tv/computer times, etc. It can also include more abstract things like your values such as honesty, being responsible, being persistent, etc.  Children need structure and limit setting so they understand what is expected of them and to feel safe. This is also a way for parents to have appropriate control in effective disciplining.    
            If parents do not provide structure and limits, children feel anxious and insecure.  They will likely feel the need to impose their own structure and limits.  This is not healthy. Children learn what they can say and do from structure and limit setting.  All children misbehave at some point or another. They need consequences when they violate the house rules or expectations.  Such consequences can be timeout, privileges taken away, being talked to/explanation, etc. It should be noted that limit setting and consequences have to be age appropriate.  For example, timeout is appropriate for a 5 year old, but not for an infant or a teenager. 
            Also be forewarned that children will test limits. When children do this, I generally see this as a positive sign that they are smart for one thing, and they are asserting themselves for independence.  Therefore, it is important to stay calm and maintain perspective when children "push the envelope" rather than lose control by yelling or scolding.
           We want children to be assertive, but they also need to learn how to cope with things within given parameters.  Life presents with many, many rules and social norms of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.  Parents tend to find themselves in this dilemma of whether they should encourage conformity or self-assertion in their children, especially in school-aged kids.  Parents play a crucial role in teaching their children how to balance between these two opposing principles. 

Discussion Questions:
1.      What are some limit setting strategies you use in parenting?
2.      What are appropriate consequences you use?
3.       How do you help your child find this balance between conformity and self-assertion?

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