- Children want to understand the rules of the world they live in.
- They want to know what is expected of the, where they stand with others, how far they can go, and what happens when they go too far. As they grow up, they need ways to measure their increasing skills and capabilities.
- Children need clear messages about our rules and expectations so they can learn how to behave acceptably. They depend on us to provide this information.
- Limits help children do “research.” From the time they are very small they are busy testing, exploring and collecting information about their world and how it works.
- Limits define the path of acceptable behavior. When limits are clear and consistent, the path is easier for children to understand and follow. When limits are unclear or inconsistent, children often steer off course and get into trouble.
- Limits define relationships. When children experience limits that are clear and firm, they begin to answer some of the most important research questions about relationships: Who’s really in charge here? How far can I go? What happens when I go too far? The data children collect help them discover how much power and control they have relative to adults. When children are given too much power and control, they often develop an exaggerated sense of their influence and authority.
- Limits provide security. Children need their parents to be the “parent”; that is, they need us to be firm and decisive in our limit setting and to provide them with clear boundaries they can count on. Their sense of security and stability depends on it. Limit setting alone conveys a powerful set of signals for children: I’m your parent. I’m strong and capable. You can count on me to guide you in the right direction.
- Limit setting is a dynamic process. It changes as children grow, and the challenge for parents is to continually adjust and expand the boundaries we establish for our children to keep them on the path of healthy development.