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Setting Limits: General information

Children need the security of knowing what's expected of them and knowing that others have needs, too. As your child grows, it's important to set reasonable rules and limits, which should be followed consistently.

Setting limits means teaching your child what she should not do, and having expectations means teaching her what she should do. Both are important parts of teaching your child how to behave.

Reasonable rules and expectations can make children feel more secure. Establishing these limits and rules up-front will ensure that your child does not end up believing that he is entitled to everything he wants. Experts say that children who are not given limits can actually be anxious and confused, because there is just too much freedom.

Rules and expectations will communicate values. Think about communicating values like "No hurting others" and "No breaking things," or "In our family we share."

Focus on safety issues - by setting rules about "not running into the street" or "not touching the stovetop." Where safety is not involved, try to get your child's input about expectations.

Let your child know what your expectations and limits are, and stick to them as often as possible. If you are inconsistent, your child will be confused.

Get your child's input into setting routines and problem-solving. For example, "Do you want to put your clothes out the night before, or choose them in the morning - which one works best for you?" When you want your child to do something, if possible, leave some room for her to make a choice.

Even if you are perfect in teaching limits and expectations, all children, especially toddlers, will break the rules sometimes. When this happens it does not mean you are failing at discipline, or that your child is bad. Breaking the rules is normal for all children, as they "push the limits" and try to be independent, or when they're just too tired to comply. So once in a while, you may decide to "let this one go" when your child breaks a rule, as long as his safety is not at risk. But that should be just once in awhile. On the whole, it's easier for your child to learn what you expect if you're consistent.

Remember, children respond much better to limits and expectations when they feel loved and noticed, and when they sense that parents are being reasonable.

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