SETTING LIMITS – Are your limits FIRM or SOFT
- July 4, 2017
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Doon Activities
Eight-year-old Rohan is engrossed playing with his toys when the doorbell rings. Mummy opens the door and Rohan can hear a familiar voice of his friend Vihaan saying, “Aunty, can Rohan come and play at my house?”
Rohan’s Mother says, “Yes Of course, But first he needs to pick up all his toys and keep them neatly in his toy cupboard.” Rohan’s toys are spread all over the floor. His Mother requests him again,” Please keep all your toys neatly before you go to Vihaan’s place.” and leaves the room.
Rohan’s mother returns in a few minutes just to find out that the toys are still lying on the floor. “That boy, he does this everytime.” Sounding angry she starts to pick up the toys herself to put them away.
When Rohan returns he sees that all his toys are neatly kept away, and smiles to himself. He knew that his mother would do it herself if he doesn’t do it. Her words said, “Pick the toys up before leaving.” But, what did her actions say? That you don’t really have to pick up your toys. Through this experience what did Rohan really learn? It wasn’t to pick up toys, but to sneak out of the house fast enough.
Do you think Rohan will take his mother seriously next time she asks him to put his toys away?
Let’s go back to the time when Rohan’s friend Vihaan came to call Rohan his home with a different ending. This time when Rohan’s mother sees the toys still lying on the floor, she walks down to Vihaan’s house, finds Rohan and brings him home. Then she sets the timer for 10 minutes. “You can return to Vihaan’s house when all your toys are picked up before the timer goes off.” She says mater-of-factly. “When you don’t do your job when asked to, it will cost you your play time.” And his mother stays in the room until he finishes clearing up.
What did Rohan learn from the experience this time? Are they the same massage? NO. If Rohan’s mother enforces her rule this way consistently, Rohan will learn to take her seriously when she asks him to clear his toys the next time before leaving the house.
When you say “NO” to your children, does no really mean no? if you ask the kids, often they’ll tell you that no really means yes, sometimes or maybe. This is the problem, unclear communication limits.
Limits come in two varieties, FIRM and SOFT.
FIRM Limits are clear signals. Words are supported with appropriate actions, and agreement is both expected and required. Children raised with firm limits learn to tune into our words, to take them seriously, and to cooperate more often when asked.
SOFT Limits are missed messages or unclear signals about rules and regulations, where words are not supported by action. Children are not required to agreed with the set rules therefore they learn to ignore words and they compel parents to the point of action more often. Soft limits are rules in theory not in action.
Following are some typical forms of Soft limits:
- Wishes, Hopes and Shoulds: Saying these words when you are setting limits are in a way saying that stopping the misbehavior would make me happy, but you don’t really have to do it or you may ignore it.
- Repeating and Reminding: This form of limit implies that “I am not going to do anything about the misbehavior, at least not for a while.” Parents who repeat and remind are actually teaching their children to zone out or ignore.
- Warnings and Second Chances: For instance a child is name-calling his brother. Their mother intervenes and gives the child a warning but he does not stop. This time his mother gets angry and shouts at him and gives him last chance to stop name-calling his brother but, the child still does not stop. The mother had it enough and sends the child to his room for the rest of the day. If name-calling was not okay, why did the mother allow it to happen several times without a meaningful consequence?
- Reasoning and Explaining: If parents really expect children to do what is said they need to support their words with effective actions and take the child away from that object/situation. Giving reasons and explaining why they shouldn’t do it may not be always effective.
- Speeches and lectures: Children understand that misbehavior is worth it if they can tolerate annoying speech or lecture from their parents. Children are not likely to take parents seriously unless until they are refrained from their privileges.
- Statement of Fact: Children are supposed to take off their shoes before entering their house but, often it goes unheard and they leave a trail of muddy footprints everywhere in the house. Then we can hear statements such as, “I am tired of cleaning up your mess.” Or “this sofa/rug is hard to clean. Don’t ruin it.” Statements like these will not stop children from entering the house next time they are in a hurry. Children know that mother will clean up the mess. If you really want them to stop the misbehavior ask them to clean up the mess they created.
- Ignoring the misbehavior: When we ignore misbehavior, we’re really saying: It’s ok to do that. Go ahead. You don’t have to stop. Parents need to say STOP with their words and also follow through by taking the object of misbehavior for a while each time they test you.
- Unclear Directions: Unclear or open-ended directions invite testing time. Both Children are Parents are in a state of conflict.
- Ineffective Role Modeling: Parents need to be careful about their words and gestures while setting limits. You must try not to contradict yourself for example: if you want your kids to stop hitting, yelling and name calling you can’t stop their conflict with more yelling, hitting or name calling. In effect, you are teaching them to do the same thing you are trying to punish them for.
- Pleading or Begging: Parents who plead or beg children to cooperate are really saying: Do the job when you feel like it.
- Bargaining or Negotiating: Parents who Bargain over their limits on a regular basis invite children to test and redefine their rules.
- Arguing and debating: By participating in verbal wars/match with your children you are really saying : that the rules are subject to argument and debate. Inviting a power struggle by encouraging children to test limits.
- Bribes and special rewards: When parents offer bribes or special rewards to encourage a good behavior or to cooperate they are saying that cooperation or good behavior is optional. Often the desired behavior stops as soon as we withheld the reward.
- Inconsistency between parents: Limits should be clear and consistent between both the parents. Otherwise children will only listen to rules which are in their favor and this sets all three up for conflict.
From my perspective, Soft Limits are often ineffective because they don’t give children the clear information they need and realize the cause-and-effect of what we say and do. The signals clearly fail to send the message across. They often achieve the opposite of intended effect. In the next post we will see the comparison between Firm Limits and Soft Limits and a guideline of appropriate statements that parents can use to set limits.
(M.S. Couns. & Psy.)