How to Manage Your Child’s Protests When Creating Boundaries

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READING TIME: 6 min.

Children protest.  It is their job.  Ours is to create safe and healthy boundaries for them to live within. When WE keep our limits, our children actually feel safer and more secure.

When you put a new limit down, your child is going to protest, but I’ve got some tips to help manage that protest as best you can.

Creating Boundaries to Manage Your Child’s Behavior

Consistent Routines

Throughout your day, wherever you have a routine, keep them consistent–whether it is the morning routine, dinner routine, or bedtime routine.  Do not change or skip any steps, especially in the first 3 weeks of a new routine.  They will protest, but the more your child sees that you are no longer willing to budge, no matter what the protest sounds like or how long it lasts, this will be your key to decreasing protest. Don’t give in to their protest.  Follow through on with whatever you said was going to happen. All caregivers of your child should follow the same rules.  It takes a while for your child to understand that if Grandma lets her get away with NOT brushing teeth, that YOU don’t do that.  The protests, particularly around bedtime, will increase if the rules are different in one place and not in the other.

Rule Reminders and Fostering Independence

You can help your child learn what the new rules are, and foster independence within those rules by using lots of visual cues. Think charts and calendars that help them track responsibilities or schedules.  Also, allow them to become independent where they can be – give them space to do their tasks where they can be trusted. Have the clock in their room so that they can see the time and get out of bed on their own (an Ok to Wake Clock works great for younger children).

Warnings

Give a 5-minute warning before the bedtime routine starts, “In five minutes, we are going to start getting ready for bed, so you might want to finish up what you are doing.” Follow up with a two-minute warning: “2 minutes until bath time.  Maybe you can put your LEGO away up high on the shelf.  Seems like you’ve got some important work going.  You can continue it tomorrow.”

Using Fun

Try to make transitions fun.  Build a pretend rocket ship to fly to the kitchen table.  Pretend their teeth are rocks to be shined by the toothbrush.  Walk backward into bed.  The more fun they can have, the easier the transitions will likely be.

Empathy and Compassion

Stay calm and loving. Use this formula (in a compassionate tone):

Acknowledge what they are saying+ say their feelings + re-state the limit.

“Oh, I really see you don’t want to stop playing with your LEGO and go to bed.  You seem so angry that Daddy said your time was up.  But, it is bedtime, and so it’s time to leave the LEGO building for tomorrow.  Come on, let’s go together!”

Or, “You want to stay up.  It’s really hard to not get what you want.  That makes you feel so sad.  But, it’s still time for bed.  Let’s go!”

During a full tantrum:

Take a deep breath and observe what is going on. Try to get to the root of the problem or feeling.  (First checklist: Food?  Tired?  Overwhelm?)

If talking helps, repeat your empathic formula until they are worn out and calm again.

If your words aren’t working, know the tantrum could be just a release of feelings, or you haven’t figured out why they are angry yet!  Keep present, kind, and gentle while establishing these boundaries.  Allow them to cool down in their own time.

For more on this strategy check out Janet Lansbury’s blogs online.

Choices

You are making a bunch of new decisions for them, and, ultimately you are taking back your power as the parent.  Giving choices throughout the day can help them feel like they have some control over the situation too. Be careful – a proper choice has 2 equally positive choices. Some suggested choices they could make include, “of these 2 pairs of pajamas, which would you like to wear?” Or, “would you like grilled cheese or a ham sandwich for lunch?”

Natural Consequences

Instead of fighting about something, you could choose a few situations where you allow your daughter to learn the impact of her actions through natural consequences.  The parent’s job is not to save their child from the discomfort of the consequence, but to allow it to happen.  Natural consequences should only be used when there are no dangers involved.  For example:

Eating: If she won’t eat, remind her she will be hungry before her snack time.  If she still does not eat, then allow her to feel hungry before her snack time.  This means your job is to not feed her before her snack so that she can feel some hunger pangs, and, eat better the next time she is at a meal.

Outdoor clothes: If your child refuses to put on a coat on a cool day, let them go outside without their coat.  Bring their coat with you.  Once they recognize how cold they are and ask for a coat, put them on.

Refusing to get dressed (when you really don’t HAVE to do the thing you’re going to): If your child is going to do a fun activity with the family, but is refusing to get dressed, you could warn them, “If you don’t get dressed soon, we won’t be able to get to the park”.  If they don’t get dressed in good time, you don’t go to the park.

Places NOT to use natural consequences (anywhere that they could get hurt): teeth brushing, sleep, dangerous climbing, running onto the street, etc.

Problem Solving Process

(This is best used with verbal 2.5-year-old children and up – when other options have failed.)

Intro: You’ve been struggling to stay seated at the dinner table during mealtime.  What’s up? Parent Tips: Listen to understand. Do not speak except to paraphrase. Do not judge or lecture. Do not move on until you understand the situation clearly.

Define the problem in 2 sentences:  1. Problem for them.  2. Problem for you.

E.g.  “You get really bored at dinner and don’t want to sit anymore.  I really want you to stay focused so we can finish the meal.”

Brainstorming:
“What do you think we can do to solve this problem?” Parent Tips: Do not judge. Write everything down (even the goofy answers). Find MANY solutions together. Try for at least 10 solutions but keep going if they will! You can suggest things, but your child should suggest more than ½ of the solutions.

Picking the best answer: Let THEM pick their answer. Try it out! Keep the list, if the solution doesn’t work you can go back to the drawing board.

Once you establish these boundaries, you may see your child begin to change their responses!

 

 

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Hilliary grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, but has lived in many places across the U.S., settling in Dallas in 2018 with her husband and (now) two sons. She is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist and Family Coach, and owner of Tranquil Beginnings. Prior to this, she spent much of her professional career working to improve the lives of children and families, utilizing her education in psychology, social work, and nonprofit management and fundraising to provide care for children, support little ones with developmental disabilities, teach trauma informed yoga and mindfulness to youth who have suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and raise money for healthcare systems and mid-sized nonprofits. When she isn't changing families' lives through her work, she can be found enjoying the city's kid-friendly activities, working her way through Dallas' culinary scene, exploring the outdoors, practicing yoga, and enjoying live music!

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