Parenting Resource

When the Answer Is No: Setting Limits With Love for Toddlers

Download Files May 3, 2012

Young children learn self-control through interactions with peers and guidance from parents, teachers, and other loving adults. Learn how you can help your grandchild learn and develop self-control.

Photo: Kiwi Street Studios

In order to follow rules and understand limits, children need to have self-control. Self-control is the ability to cope with strong feelings and stop oneself from doing something that is not allowed. Learning self-control begins at birth and continues to develop throughout childhood. Young children learn self-control through interactions with peers and guidance from parents, teachers, and other loving adults.

The Power of Prevention: Heading Off Misbehavior

1. Be consistent.

Setting and enforcing clear rules is key to helping children learn to make good choices. If every time a child throws a toy it gets taken away, he quickly learns not to throw toys. But when the rules keep changing, it is confusing for young children to know which rules they can count on.

2. Give your grandchild tools to help her cope with waiting.

Need 10 minutes to fold some clothes? Set a kitchen timer. This helps your grandchild feel more in control and therefore better able to cope.

3. Help your grandchild with daily transitions.

For example, if you notice your grandchild has a hard time dealing with transitions, such as going from lunch to nap, you can give him a warning 5 minutes before. It is also helpful to establish a routine that helps him make the change, such as starting a favorite book that you finish when he wakes up.

4. Give choices that head off misbehavior.

For example, when your child is having trouble sharing a ball, you might say: You have a choice to make. You can choose to take turns with the ball or we can put the ball away. Be very matter-of-fact and use simple language. Taking the emotion out of limit-setting helps children focus on the choice they have to make and not on the anger of the other person or feeling bad about themselves.

5. Look for ways to help your grandchild practice self-control.

Turn-taking games can help children learn to wait and control their impulses. Take turns hitting a soft foam ball off a tee. Have each of you choose an instrument to play and set an egg-timer for 1 minute. When the timer goes off, switch instruments and set the timer again.