Back to articles Setting loving limits for our children... and seeing them through BY Sara Dimerman

Categories: Parenting

As adults, we live with limits every day. When we drive, we are required to follow specific speed limits. If we don't conform to this, there may be consequences such as being given a speeding ticket and having to pay a fine. We are required to drop off and pick up our children at day care or school at prescribed times. If we push those limits, there may be consequences for this too. An internet resource dedicated to responsible gambling uses the slogan "Know your limit. Play within it" as a way of reminding people to pre plan how much they have or want to spend before getting carried away in the moment.
So, preparing our kids for the real world is part of why we are doing them a favour by setting limits from a very young age.

Children (and adults) feel a sense of safety when they know where and what the boundaries are. Even when we travel distances by car, we typically do so with an end point in mind. Often, driving aimlessly, with no destination or direction, can create anxiety. Even though children typically push limits to see how flexible they are, there is security in knowing that they exist. So, even though your child may resist and resent being told to turn the television off at 830pm to get ready for bed, most children (once older and wiser), will admit that having loving limits set for them is preferable to having no limits at all. When parents don't set limits, children may perceive their parents as uncaring or uninvolved.

Setting limits creates a sense of order and structure. Imagine if we had no limits set at all. Everyone would make their own rules and the world would be a very chaotic place in which to live. Your home environment is a microcosm of what takes places outside of your walls. When children and adults within the family know what time to wake, what time to be at the school bus stop, what time dinner is being served and what time to have lights out, they thrive because their world is more predictable.

Establishing consequences in advance is a good idea too. So, you might say to your young child, "if you don't hold my hand, then we will have to leave" or if you'd prefer, "if you don't hold my hand, I will need to put something around your waist and hold onto it so that I can keep you close."

Even teens need to know where your boundaries lie, why you have set limits and what the consequences will be if they are not respected. For example, you can say "the reason I need you to let me know when you and your friend have left his house to go to another is so that I know where to find you if you don't respond to my call."

It's up to us as parents to determine which limits are more rigid and which can bend. For example, you may be comfortable with extending bedtime to a later time on weekends or not pushing them to brush their teeth after they've fallen asleep in the car and want to go straight to bed. When agreeing to push the limits, make sure that your children realize that this is a conscious choice on your part rather than because you are throwing up your hands with the realization that you feel helpless.

So, you might say something like, "you make a good point. I am willing to relax the guidelines tonight. But just so you know, this is an exception to the rule and not a permanent change."

Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, Author and mom to two daughters. For more advice, connect at or on Twitter @helpmesara.