Limits and consequences give young ones a solid set of rules to use when making decisions. These concepts are similar but differ in key ways. Knowing these differences enables parents to develop strategies that help their children choose cooperative and mutually beneficial behaviors more often.

Defining Limits

Limits are rules we follow to reduce the possibility of negative circumstances. These boundaries keep us safe from potentially dangerous situations. Use these tips to encourage safe yet independent decision making.

  •  Younger children need simple, well-defined limits. As they mature, limits can be relaxed to accommodate their growing sense of responsibility.
  • A five-year-old may be limited to 20 minutes per day of access to a limited range of websites. Teenagers could be given more time and freedom with the same privilege.
  • Consider your child’s age and ability level when deciding what limits to set. Older children may have rules about vehicle use, attending social events, and chores or job duties. For smaller children, healthy limits include playing with toys in their proper place to reduce damage to surroundings.
  • Rules should apply to all family members. Making rules that only apply to one or two members can seem harsh and unfair. Even if the problem is mainly perpetrated by specific parties, make an effort to include everyone in the responsibility of upholding the family ethic.

Limits help keep kids safe until they are able to make their own decisions.

Defining Consequences

Consequences are the natural effects of our actions. If you prick a balloon with a pin, the consequence is a popped balloon. Help children to think before they act to minimize unhappy results.

  • Irritation makes it easy for hurtful words to accidentally slip. Hurtful language causes more problems than it solves. Maintain your cool when you observe your child breaking a rule. Always respond from a place of loving correction.
  • Give your children space to experience the natural consequences of their actions. If they choose to ignore homework assignments, they shouldn’t be surprised or upset when they see bad grades on report cards. Of course, you should intervene right away if there is a possibility of physical harm or damage.
  • When your child experiences negative consequences because of their actions, talk with them about it. Discuss the decisions they made that contributed to the situation. Brainstorm ways to avoid a repeat of the circumstances.

In your family meetings, define consequences for those who choose to subvert the family rules. Swear jars, extra chores, and repairing any damage are excellent ways to encourage good decision making.

Consistency is key to effective limits and consequences. If a child doesn’t believe you will carry through on established rules, they will lose trust in your ability to offer real guidance. Once that trust is lost, it’s difficult to regain your authority. Consistency also reduces confusion and anxiety, which are common triggers for unwanted behaviors.

Limits and consequences don’t limit your child’s potential. Instead, they provide a strong foundation they can use to build a satisfying life.

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