The key to setting limits and staying connected to your child relates to emotions. Tuning in to your child’s emotional state is important if you are going to set a limit that is in conflict with your child’s wishes and desires. Empathize first. Reflect her feeling about her desire back to her and then follow through on setting a limit.

Let’s say your daughter wants a snack but dinnertime is near. You might say, “It sounds like you are feeling hungry, and I hear that you would like a snack. Since dinner is almost ready, let’s plan to have ice cream after dinner if you’re still hungry.” Your child will experience this exchange much differently than hearing a parent simply say, “No!”

Empathic and reflective comments offered to your child will oftentimes help her move past feelings of frustration related to not getting what she wants. If a child still feels upset or adamant about her wishes, no matter what you say or how you say it, let her experience a little distress without punishment but also without your giving in. This gives your child the opportunity to figure out how to tolerate her own emotional discomfort. You don’t have to be the one to fix every situation by giving in or doing all of the figuring out about how to get rid of your child’s uncomfortable feelings.

Let your child have her emotions and let her know that you do understand that it’s really hard not to get what she wants all the time. You will be parenting from a place of kindness in these teachable moments.
More to consider: Learning through experience . . .

We can all learn from reflecting on past experiences. What has worked well in the past? What has not worked so well? Parents need to be clear in their own minds about the limits they want to set and the messages they want to deliver. Limit-setting shows respect for everyone involved—both parents and children—and will be more effective if decided before frustration grows.