It is necessary for parents to control and set limits on inappropriate behavior. Consistent limit-setting could help to make children feel calm and protected by someone who knows the world better than he/she does. Research has also shown that most children fail to comply with rules set by parents about one-third of the time. They will protest when an activity or object is denied and parents must understand that this is a healthy expression of a child’s need for independence and autonomy.
Here are some of the tips parents could use when setting limits for or give commands to their children:
1. Reduce commands and keep them short
Would you be surprised to learn that on average parent gives 17 commands in half an hour? Research has proven that frequent commands DO NOT improve a child’s behavior and a child will not be able to follow through 17 commands in half an hour. A second time of “Put away the toys” is not necessary if the child has already begun to put them away. Before giving a limit setting command, think about whether it is an important issue and whether you are prepared to follow through with the consequences if your child does not comply. One useful tip is to have five or ten “unbreakable” rules for your family and have them posted on a readily visible place. Once you have the list, you’ll find that you are more precise when you state them and you are also able to reduce unnecessary commands.
2. Avoid chain or repeat commands
Parents tend to give a string of limit setting commands without giving the child time to comply with the first command. This kind of information overload is difficult for young children to remember. Giving chain commands denies the parent the opportunity to praise the child for complying with any of the individual commands. This eventually leads to noncompliance because the child who can’t retain all information simply can’t comply with them, and even if he can comply with the few initial commands, there will be no praises to reinforce his compliance. Also, saying the same command over and over again will give the children the perception that there is no real need to comply until the fifth time.
3. Give realistic commands
Give limit setting commands that are realistic and appropriate for the age of the child. Expecting a hyperactive child to sit quietly for long periods at dinner or expecting a three-year-old to make his bed is unrealistic expectations.
4. Give “Do” commands
“Question commands” are particularly confusing for children. If you expect your child to comply but phrase your limit setting command as a question, you are providing a confusing message to him. “Would you like to have a bath now?” and if your child says no while you expect him to comply, you are stuck as you must think of a way to convince him to take a bath. “Do” commands such as “Put away the toys”, “Go to bed”, “Hold the glass with both hands” are assertive statements that a child will understand and follow.
5. Give positive and polite commands
Angry parent who gives a sarcastic command or a negative comment such as “why don’t you sit still for once in your life!” tend to encourage a child to retaliate the criticism by choosing not to comply.
6. Use start commands
“Stop fighting”, “Don’t do that”, “Shut up”, “Enough of that” are all stop commands that tell a child what not to do and place focus on the misbehavior. Parent will realize that if you tell your child “don’t throw the toys”, a toy is just what the child is likeliest to throw simply because that is what the parent’s words have made him visualize. Give limit setting command that details the behavior you desire, use “Please speak quietly” instead of “Stop yelling”.
7. Allow time to comply
While immediate compliance is sometimes necessary such as those around safety issues, for most occasions, children deserve an opportunity to succeed in complying. Pause, and count silently to five after giving a limit setting command, if the child has still not complied, then you can consider this noncompliance.
8. Give warnings and reminders
Give a reminder or warning prior to command to prepare the children to make transitions. “In five more minutes, it will be time to put your blocks away and go to bed” is definitely more likely to obtain compliance than “Go to bed now”.
9. Use “After… then” commands
Avoid using commands that sound like threats such as “You are going to be sorry if you did that.” This type of command vaguely implies the consequence and will tend to cause the child to be defiant rather than compliant. Use “when… then” commands to tell your child in advance the exact consequences of his actions. Command such as “After you’ve put way the toys, then you can watch your television program” gives your child the choice to comply or not to, and knowledge of the consequences of each choice.
In summary, giving effective commands for limit setting does not require parents to be authoritarian and rigid, nor for parents to expect 100 percent compliance from the children. Rather, parents should be prepared to follow through with praise or consequences to reinforce their children’s compliance or to hold them accountable for their noncompliance.