In a previous episode, #20, I talked about how setting boundaries and loving limits can help your family run more smoothly. You communicate the boundaries up front in a loving way and you allow for consequences to happen when the boundaries are exceeded. It sounds so easy when I say that right? Easier said than done.
A few days ago, I ran into a family who’d been to my classes and lectures and have been trying to implement good boundaries over the classic issue in all our homes – screen time!
They set up clear boundaries, 30 minutes a day for their 5th grade boy. Their son knew the rule but the parents told me that just about every day as soon as he was done with his 30 minutes he immediately started asking for more time. And he kept asking and asking and asking. Dad felt their boundary worked about 75% of the time, meaning their son got no extra screen time, but 25% of the time their son got more time. Hmm… Mom and dad were not in agreement that the 75% was a good success rate – dad thought it was pretty good but mom thought they could do better. However, both of them were in agreement about one thing -- that their son begging was really getting to them.
Our kids are smart. When we give in 25% of the time, we give them permission to ignore our boundaries which can easily lead to begging. It works for our kid 25% of the time which is way better than 0% so why not try it? That’s what goes on in our kids brains without them even having to think about it.
What’s a parent to do? How do you get beyond the begging for more when you have been quite clear about the limits?
There are two things I’d recommend.
- Use a simple phrase: AND WHAT DID I SAY?
When they ask for more screen time, it would sound like: AND WHAT IS THE LIMIT? Have them repeat the limit back to you then say nothing or, at the most, give them empathy that limits are hard. Give them real empathy, “I’m sorry this is so hard on you.”
- Have consequences for complaining and whining about not liking whatever limit they don’t like. Love and Logic recommends using ENERGY DRAIN when things like this happen that don’t have natural consequences. It sounds like: “Wow, this is so sad, it really drains my energy when I keep getting asked for more screen time when you know you’ve already had your time for the day. How would you like to put energy back in mom?” Notice my calm voice with empathy. I’m sad that they’ve crossed the line and need to put energy back.
Feel free to even be dramatic when they start asking for more screen time! “Oh my!!! My head… it’s awful… my whole body is draining of energy! Ugh! Being asked for more screen time is just the worst! What are you going to do to help get my energy back? I’ll go sit here on the couch to recover while you figure it out.”
I have a handy list nearby on my fridge or in my head of things they can do to replace the energy drained by their pestering me. It might be making dinner or sweeping the floor. It could be dusting or putting lotion on my hands. It is something your child does for you that they don’t normally do, possibly one of your regular jobs. The idea is to get their brains off thinking about their selfish requests onto the impact their behavior has on other people. This is true for all ages of kids! 2-year old’s might be dusting or vacuuming while 16-year old’s might be making dinner.
Here's a link to my Energy Drain Idea list.
But what do you do if they won’t put your energy back? This is where things get a little harder. You’ll have to have something happen, a consequence, when they fail to put your energy back. You need to know what your child’s currency is, what lever you have over things you do for them that they want you to keep doing. Here are some ideas:
- I drive kids to school who’ve put my energy back.
- I read books at bedtime to kids who’ve put my energy back.
- I drive kids to the store to shop who’ve put my energy back.
- I serve dinner to kids who’ve put my energy back.
Why Boundaries Fail:
I just want to take a minute to go over a few more reasons why some of your boundaries might not be working in your home.
- Boundaries are Undefined – this is where you think they should know them but you never actually said it out loud
- Boundaries are Too Flexible – this is what happened to my family with the screen time issue, the kids don’t know when mom and dad might enforce a limit but there are limits
- Boundaries have Too Much Negativity – when boundaries are always negative it makes kids want to rebel, there is a lot of “you can’t” do this or that
- Boundaries have no Consequences – you set a limit and then don’t do anything when the limit is broken
- Too Many Boundaries – this is when parents are trying to control way too many aspects of kids’ lives and the kids have no room to breathe, they are always breaking rules every 10 minutes since there are so many rules
How to Set Good Boundaries:
Now let’s do a quick review of how to set good boundaries:
- Define the Boundaries – I love to recommend families have Family Meetings to help define and set limits so no one is surprised and everyone has some input into the rules when it’s possible.
- Make it positive! You want to tell your kids what they CAN do, not what they CAN’T do.
- Have Consequences - Kids need to know what will happen if they choose to disobey you or ignore you.
- Be Consistent – we talked about that already
- Be Reasonable - it’s great to make a list of Family Rules but be careful not create so many rules that the kids feel they don’t have choices and will start to rebel. It’s best if you can incorporate ways for your kids to have a feedback loop especially when setting up new rules as your kids grow.
- Be Calm and Loving – when our kids give us grief feel free to go braindead. “Mom, this sucks that I can’t use screens when all my friends do all the time!” Your response is: “I knooooooooowwww” in a boring, but loving tone. You can always talk with your child at later time to ask for feedback if you get too much grief but not in the moment when their emotions are activated.
I hope this was helpful.
Here's a link to my other episode and the Energy Drain Idea List:
Episode 20 - Creating Calm with Boundaries and Limits
ENERGY DRAIN IDEAS