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Parents do need to set limits, and the hard part about doing this is deciding which lines to draw. Your personal values and attitudes will guide you, and it will also be helpful to remember to set your boundaries wide and then enforce them while keeping your child’s age and stage of development in mind. You are teaching as you set limits, so choose a few important parameters that will let you offer sound teaching. That way you can avoid enforcing many little limits and “rules,” which invariably results in any teaching being lost to exhaustion.

For example, when setting limits focus on just a few broadly defined key issues at a time rather than tackling every narrowly defined transgression. Teaching your child about “respecting other people” covers not hitting, spitting on, and pinching a playmate. Setting such a broad limit as “respect others” circumvents your child from the clever twists all kids are capable of creating. You know: “I did obey you. I didn’t hit or spit or pinch,” your child says, as you discipline him or her for pushing over a playmate.

So, as you discipline your child, choose your battles. Your goal is to teach your child general principles of acceptable behavior as he or she grows and thrives.