The summer break can be challenging for you and your children, and you will probably find yourself trying to regain control by yelling things like, "If you don't stop fighting over it, I'll throw that Nintendo Switch out the car window"?
Stop for a moment – that's probably not true. You probably rely on the Nintendo Switch for more downtime than your child. Besides, you will probably fork out the cost for a new console anyway. On top of this, your 'empty threats' are now just background noise to your kids. Children don't know how to tolerate an irrational state of mind.
Limits aren't about punishing kids. Instead, they try to keep them safe and help them develop sensible boundaries by setting reasonable limits. You'll want to set limits as a way of connecting, not as punishment or payback, and not as proof that you are in charge. Of course, to be successful at setting limits, you don't have to be at your glowing best, but things won't work well if anger consumes you. So how do we set limits that are effective and will encourage responsibility? Here are a few key points to keep in mind when looking to set boundaries:
1. Is it a reasonable request? For example, if two kids are clashing in the car on the 5-minute journey to school, it's probably helpful to ask them to try to get along for that brief time. However, if they're an hour into a 2-hour journey, perhaps it's time to stop for a leg-stretch and give them a break from each other, not a time to lay down the law.
2.Is the consequence related to the issue? Ideally, a limit should have a natural consequence – something that would naturally happen if that behaviour continued. For example, if you bite a friend, that friend would not want to sit close to you. Or if you say something mean, they won't want to hang out with you the next day. Unfortunately, sometimes we tend to set limits unrelated to the situation. For example, "If you say one more mean word to your sister, you must rake up all the leaves in the garden!" This punishment will lead to resentment and confusion because the consequence is unrelated to the issue.
3. Is the consequence in proportion to the problem? For example, if I deliberately knock a glass of orange juice onto the floor, it's reasonable to ask me to mop up the spill. However, it is not practical to ask me to mop up the whole downstairs now.
4.Is the consequence doable? You're not "really" going to smash up that Nintendo Switch, right? Nope – and your child knows that too. There's no use making an empty statement if you're not following through with it. Your limits will just become meaningless.
Setting unfair, unrelated limits and out of proportion will only set your child up to feel hard done by and resentful. So don't see limit-setting moments as punishment. But instead, use them to guide your kid towards better decision-making in the future. Parenting flows more sweetly when we move from being enforcers to first responders.
Setting limits well is at least fifty per cent planning! When you connect with your child at the first whiff of upset, you'll be warmer and more flexible, as will your child. A few minutes of cuddling, hanging out, or horsing around when things head south can change the day.