Ask the Expert: How Do I Set Limits on My Child?

Ask the Expert: How Do I Set Limits on My Child?


Setting limits on your child's behavior can be difficult. Lisa Navarra, a behavioral specialist, explains why setting limits is important, when you should set limits, and how to set effective limits and consequences.


setting limits on kidsWhen setting limits on our children's behavior, we run the risk that our children may not listen to us or, even worse, will publicly embarrass us. Here, I'll discuss why setting limits is important and how to make sure you feel like the parent and not the child.

Limit setting is important because it teaches your child right from wrong by setting the boundary for behavioral expectations. It's more than making rules. A child who is used to acting how he pleases at home may exhibit the same behaviors in school and with friends. When your child pushes socially acceptable boundaries, the result may be that his peers will not want to play with him. Another consequence of not following limits/rules may be that your child puts himself in an unsafe situation.


When to Set Limits on Your Child

When should you set limits on your child? The earlier you set limits, the easier it is to reinforce listening with rewards or consequences. An easy way to remember when to set a limit is when you want to address a situation that involves one or more of the following:

- avoiding physical or psychological harm

- the protection of property

- advocating respect for you, your child, and others

- teaching responsibility for actions


How to Set Limits Effectively

Here is a basic outline for how to deliver and set a limit effectively:

1. Create an atmosphere in which you, your spouse, and your child can sit down together and talk without any distractions.

2. Clearly state what limit or rule you want to begin enforcing and why.

3. Validate your child's input. Listen and understand your child’s perspective, even if you don't agree with it.

4. Set the terms of the limit and establish a meaningful consequence if the limit/rule is broken.

5. Be consistent by enforcing the limit and consequence.

6. Be firm and fair with any attempts that your child makes in negotiating the terms of the limit.

7. Be firm and fair when enforcing the limit/rule. Always stick to the bottom line and avoid getting into a power struggle.


Stay strong and be confident in your abilities. You will be well on your way to effectively practicing the parenting strategy of setting limits. Your child will value your word while feeling heard, safe, and secure.

Setting structure, boundaries, and rules consistently is a sign of love and positive parenting. Stay focused!


Lisa Navarra is a certified educational and behavioral specialist with more than 16 years of experience. Navarra is the founder and director of Child Behavior Consulting on Long Island, an educational consulting company that specializes in assessing children and young adults who are in need of behavior modification, which offers parent groups and presentations focused on empowering the parent, school staff/faculty, and safety personnel.