If you’ve heard of peaceful parenting, you’re likely familiar with setting limits for a child to hear.

But the difficulty doesn’t come from applying those limits; it comes from choosing limits that meet your needs and your family’s requirements but that your child can still hear and understand. While something may sound perfectly reasonable to us as adults, to children, it may not make sense or could be misinterpreted. That’s why it’s crucial to design limits based on what makes sense to your child – so they can completely hear what you require without the need for hard ‘no’s.

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How can we set limits and boundaries?

The Parenting Junkie says the way to get around saying no is to phrase your answer as a conditional yes. The concept is that, instead of directly refusing a request from our child, we find the ‘hidden yes’ where a refusal exists.

For example, if your child requests more playtime before they do their homework, the instinct is to say no. Instead, you can turn your answer on its head by saying a conditional yes, setting limits without the requirement of a hard no. Here are some examples of answers you could use instead:

  • Yes, you can have more time to play once you’ve completed your homework
  • Yes, you can play for ten minutes when you have finished one assignment
  • Yes, let’s use your toys to figure out this math puzzle

While some answers are more suitable than others, depending on the limits you already have, saying yes instead of no can be a powerful tool for parents. As is often pointed out when it comes to more discipline-led parenting, negative language wins out over the positives, which can have a long-term impact on children’s mental health and happiness. Saying no is often a knee-jerk reaction to a situation, and the more annoyed or angry we are, the sharper our responses are.

No parent enjoys being asked the same thing repeatedly or being nagged or whinged at to do something or have something. But by setting limits differently, we can establish what is and isn’t allowed without resorting to harsher words.

Sometimes you have to say, “No.”

There are some situations where ‘no’ is always going to be the reaction – for example, if your child is in danger or puts someone else in danger. In those cases, the word no is the first thing that comes to mind. But by using ‘no’ in the same way in less extreme circumstances, the word loses a lot of its power, making it frustrating and annoying but not something that indicates a dire situation.

Setting limits using positive language can resolve this issue, allowing parents to establish what they want their children to understand effectively.

Setting boundaries and limits

One point often made surrounding setting boundaries and limits for children is the capacity children have to understand and comprehend the limitations set on them. Especially in younger children, there is no reason in their minds for these rules, leading to frustration when they hit a wall or are unable to do something they want to. This is especially true for toddlers and young children who don’t have the emotional or mental understanding to understand why ‘no means no’.

Setting limits your child can hear is made far more manageable through positive reinforcement and understanding, allowing your child to be a little more autonomous and understand their impact on those around them. The Parenting Junkie states that in adult society, we don’t talk to people with harsh phrases or single-word sentences, so we shouldn’t teach our children to behave this way.

But what about situations where your child’s wants can’t happen?

Whether it has another chocolate bar, playing outside on their own, or even going on holiday, replacing negative language with ‘I wish’ is one way to use yes phrasing without confusing your child with promises or suggestions that something will happen as they want it.

I wish we could have another chocolate bar, but one a day is what we agreed is a more positive way to say no, and keeps you firmly on your child’s side. You’re not the enemy; you’re just the parent, and as such, reinforcing those limits is important – and doing so in a way your child can hear is even more vital.

Do you use ‘no’ when you discipline your child? What do you think about setting limits using ‘yes’ language?

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