Setting Limits with Toddlers: A Family Affair

Every child has a different temperament and a very different way of looking at the world. What we often do not realize is that the way we look at the world influences our children the most.

There is a surplus of information available about how to set limits with toddlers. There are many philosophies about how to get a toddler to do what you want him to do or not do what you don’t want him to do. Experts tell us what to do and how. There are even reality television shows featuring nannies that help frazzled parents manage their toddlers. What is not readily available is a way of looking at ourselves and our family from a systems approach: How to create an environment for a toddler to grow into an emotionally healthy adult.

We have all been conditioned to brace ourselves for toddlerhood. We talk about “the terrible twos” and expect that during these years we will be exhausted and won’t always find our bundle of joy so appealing. We enter this stage of our child’s development expecting frustration. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a different way of thinking about toddlers that involves us observing ourselves and our relationships with others. When we learn to set limits in our own lives, we become empowered to make the changes necessary that will impact our growing toddler.

Think about how you set limits with yourself. Do you get enough sleep, or do you find yourself saying, “I will just do one more thing”. Think about your relationship with food. Do you exercise? Do  you take time out for yourself? How do you nourish yourself? How do you act when you are hungry or tired?

What about your relationship with your spouse? How are conflicts resolved? Is there resolution? How do you as a family deal with frustrations? How do you deal with disappointments or bad news? Are you or other family members able to say I’m sorry” to one another?

What is your relationship with work? Do you set limits, or do you constantly bring home work from the office? Do you limit your own use of the television and computer?

Think about how often you say no when someone asks for a favor. Do you put yourself first, or your family? Do you recognize when you have too much on your plate?

Parenting is not something done to a child, but rather with a child.

Some tips:

  • Give your toddler likeable alternatives (“You can wear the pink shirt or the purple shirt … which one do you choose?”)
  • Use a tone that conveys your request is understandable and reasonable
  • Use a toddler’s natural sense of fairness
  • Use humor
  • Make tasks a game (Let’s see who can get to the bathroom first, or who can put the blocks away the fastest.)
  • Assure your toddler you are in charge.
  • Pick your battles
  • Own your feelings and be ready to express them. (“Mommy is very frustrated right now”)
  • Do not use fear or guilt to coerce your toddler(“Mommy will  be sad if you do not pick up your toys”)
  • Do not be afraid of temper tantrums. Toddlers need to learn that anger and despair are part of the human experience and do not necessarily lead to a lasting emotional collapse.
  • Remember there is no such thing as the perfect parent. You will have your good moments and your not so good moments

Children model what they see and respond to what they feel. Our toddlers are unconsciously aware of their environment and they react to it. When we are empowered to make changes within ourselves and in our relationships, we create a climate for a toddler to grow into an adult who is empowered as well.

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