Setting Limits With Your Child: Navigating the Tricky Terrain

Setting Limits

Do you ever find yourself in a battle of wills with your determined child? You're not alone.

Countless parents struggle with setting limits for their little ones.

And when limits lead to resistance and tears, we feel drained and question whether we're doing the right thing.

But here's the truth: 

It's all part of the journey. Setting boundaries is good for your child's development — and doing so with a persistent child who is having a tough moment is important. Why? Take a look.

Setting boundaries helps your child build life skills

There are the hard limits — like wearing a bike helmet or buckling up in the car — that are non-negotiable for safety reasons. 

Then, there are the gray areas, where the situation is not so clear-cut — like when you have to reduce screen time or snacks. 

In these moments, you might find yourself wavering, especially when you’re met with your toddler’s puppy dog eyes or incessant pleas for just one more cookie.

You might ask yourself, “Why do I have to do this?”

Here’s why:

Setting boundaries helps children learn about the world around them. 

It teaches them about social norms, and gives them practice with impulse control and delayed gratification — both essential skills for navigating life. 

These boundaries allow children to learn how to manage their emotions effectively, something that will stick with them for years to come.

4 simple ways to set boundaries with your child

First, let's acknowledge the elephant in the room: 

It's hard. Really hard. 

Saying no to your child, especially when they're upset, feels terrible. 

But rest assured, you’re doing what’s best for them. Research indicates that setting limits is vital for your child’s emotional regulation and helps them understand the world.

Here are four ways to approach boundary-setting with your child:

  1. Remind yourself that it's not personal. Your child isn't defying you out of malice; they're simply exploring their boundaries.
  2. Let your child feel seen, heard, and understood. Empathize with them and validate their feelings. You can use phrases such as, “I see how upset you are. I know you’re really disappointed. It’s so hard when you can’t have what you want.”
  3. Teach them how to manage those big emotions. Whether that means taking deep breaths, going for a walk, or counting to ten. Check out this article with some helpful mindfulness techniques.
  4. Offer choices within the limits you've set to give them a sense of control and autonomy. For example, “We have to walk to the car now, but you get to decide if we take 15 tiny steps or seven huge steps to get there. It’s your choice!”  And remember to stand firm in your boundaries while providing love and support along the way.  

Setting limits with your child is a key part of helping them grow into resilient, confident individuals who can navigate the complexities of life. 

So, keep setting those boundaries, even when it feels like the hardest thing in the world. You're doing a great job, and your child will thank you for it in the long run.

Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Setting Limits

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