- Acknowledge you child's feeling. Name what you think they are experiencing emotionally and communicate that you understand. This doesn't necessarily mean that you agree i.e. "I know you are angry that you can't watch any more television tonight. I understand that makes you mad." or "I understand that you are sad that you can't stay out later then 10 p.m. I know that it feels unfair especially since your friends get to stay out that late".
- Communicate the limit. This is where you state the boundary clearly and concisely. Using the above examples, "You have already used your TV time for today" or "Your curfew is 10 p.m."
- Tell them what they can do and what their choices are and trust that they will make the correct choice. "You can play with your legos or read a book" or "You can drive seperately from your friends or ride with them and your father or I can pick you up"
If your child continues to complain, argue or does not cooperate at that point you then you go through each step one more time and then state a final limit, "If you choose to argue with me about the TV, you are choosing to lose your _________ (fill in the blank with an appropriate consequence discussed more below), it's up to you, you decide" or "If you choose to argue with me about the curfew time, you are choosing not to go the part at all. It's your choice, so you decide".
I want to highlight a few points. First, notice that the word "no" was never used in these exchanges. With younger children, saying no tends to trigger an automatic power struggle and/or tantrum. With older children, it tends to cause a power struggle to ensue and escalate. If you have to give a choose and consequence, it's important to use a consequence that is an effective currency for your child. If you take away their outdoor playtime, but that holds no value to them, it won't motivate them to change their behavior. Each child's currency is different, so you have to decide what will work for your child. It is also important to use a consequence that is more immediate for younger children. You don't want to take away TV time for the next day for a 3 year old because tomorrow is a long way off and not a concept they can grasp. Make the consequence more in the immediate.
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It is also important to match the consequence with the situation. If you are setting a limit around arguing, the consequence is going to be much different then if you are setting a limit about hitting. When a child hits, parents often tend to react strongly letting the child know this is a great way to get a reaction. The key is to stay calm and state, "I know you are angry that you can't watch anymore TV today. People are not for hitting. You can hit stomp your feet or hit a pillow when you are angry. If you choose to hit, you are choosing to lose your play time with your friend today." It's always important to tell a child what they can do as an alternative so they can find appropriate ways to express their feelings.