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July 03, 2021

Setting Healthy Limits

In today’s world, it’s easy for parents to feel competitive and to think they need to parent their children the way “everybody’s doing it,” says family therapist and educator Michael Gurian, author of Nurture The Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child’s Unique Core Personality (Jossey-Bass; 2007; $24.95).

But it’s important to understand your child as an individual and to set healthy limits that work for your family, he says. I asked Gurian’s advice on some of today’s common parenting challenges.

Q:    My 3-year-old daughter screams if I don’t buy her candy at the grocery store. How can I get her to stop?

A:    We need to recognize that kids want limits. Before you enter the store, let your child know whether she will be allowed to choose a treat. If it’s a “no-treat day,” and she starts to scream, pick her up, take her to the car and sit with her for a minute or two until she calms down. Then go back to the store. If she starts screaming again, repeat the trip to the car. When we are consistent with how we respond, our children quickly learn that we mean what we say. This helps them learn self-control and feel secure.

Q:     My 5-year-old son hits me when he’s mad. What should I do?

A:    Starting at a young age, children can be taught to understand a simple family rule: “We do not hit animate objects.” That includes pets as well as people. But we all get angry, and it’s OK to express that anger appropriately. Boys, especially, may feel physical and may not be as able to verbalize their feelings as well as girls can at a young age. So they need an outlet. Encourage kids to express their anger by hitting a pillow, whacking the back of the couch with a foam-filled Bataca bat or going outside and shooting hoops. Often it’s easier for them to calmly discuss their feelings after having that physical release.

Q:    Sibling rivalry between my pre-teen daughters is driving me crazy. What can I do?

A:    Of course, we need to draw the line at dangerous or truly hurtful behavior. But often it’s best to let kids work this out on their own. (And it’s OK to tell them to leave the room when they drive you nuts!) Sibling rivalry helps kids learn to deal with the world. It teaches them about themselves and it helps them learn to work with others and solve problems — all skills that will help them later in life.

Q:    My 9-year-old son would play video games day and night if I let him. Where should I draw the line?

A:    Boys’ brains are wired to love competition and to be attracted to objects moving through space. Video games excite the reward center in the brain so much that kids may be unmotivated to do other tasks. It’s up to us to set limits, and the appropriate amount of time depends on the child. How is he functioning in the world? Does he play outside? Does he do well in school? Does he have friends? We need to make sure our kids are developing their bodies and brains in a balanced way.

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Sounds like a great book! I put it on by "books to buy" list. thanks for sharing.

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