• Conversations with Dr. Donna

    The Season of “Gimme”

    Dr. Donna Housman       

    The holidays can be a stressful time for all of us, but there is hope in finding the joy of the season for you and your children, when we practice limit setting. To avoid an inevitably overwhelming time of indulgence, children need consistent and firm limits during this season of “gimme gimme…please.”

    Limit setting is one of the most challenging processes for parents to understand and apply. That’s because it is rooted so often in the guilt and worry of not giving enough to your child. It’s a rather misunderstood parenting tool. Parents see it as a punishment, a power struggle, a point of contention and fear of anger/hatred—“What if my child stops loving me because I said, ‘No’?”Limit setting is not about rejecting something that our child will hate us for. What they are hating is not getting what they want.

    To ease that natural fear of hatred, let’s build the case for limit setting. The practice involves creating appropriate boundaries, restrictions, and consequences, where the outcomes are extremely positive for children (autonomy, self-control, emotion regulation).The secret of successful parenting is knowing how to react with children when their emotions run hot after hearing the word, “No.” “No” divides and separates. The word is better digested with a reason rather than the exclamation. Instead of barking out commands, encourage participation and practice solving problems collaboratively with your children. Use words that unite and support, like ‘we,’ and offer choices and alternatives.

    Remember, children learn and develop in the context of a relationship. They will pick up on your impatience and your anxiety. If you’re rushing to prepare your house for 40 guests and your daughter wants one of the prepared desserts before everyone’s arrival, your answer could determine her reaction. If you immediately say, “no,” she will likely throw a temper tantrum. Try this instead: “Allie, you can have one dessert, but it’s going to last you for the rest of the day; you can decide how you want to eat it.” You framed the decision and allowed your child to make the choice. You also showed that you were available and responsive amid the chaos rather than just giving in and saying, “yes.”

    While limit setting is meant to be practiced with children, it can also be a personal battle for parents as well. Think about the impulse purchases at Target or Toys R Us during this time of year. We wander the aisles and convince ourselves “just one more.” But times like these can serve as a learning opportunity for children to be content with the gifts they are given and for parents to be at peace with the gifts they were able to give. Try not to feel guilty this time of year. We all love our children, but save room on the list for limits this year.

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