Setting limits can be an exhausting task for parents, and even a thankless task, but it is a perfect opportunity to strengthen the connection with the children while nurturing their growth. One of the most important tasks is to teach children to be in the world and to know how to behave appropriately, being a healthy person both physically and mentally… And to do this, influence is needed.
There are different ways to influence behavior, but not all of them will work the way you would like them to. Children naturally want to make their parents happy and proud of them, but it is also important that they learn, experiment, and develop their own mind and critical thinking.
When children and adolescents do things that are below the expectations of adults, it can be for different reasons, such as:
- They are expected to do something that they are not ready for based on their developmental development (such as three-year-old sharing toys just by telling them)
- You are experiencing the world and its limits (something normal and healthy)
- You are experiencing your independence and showing your identity
- You are angry or embarrassed about having to get approval
- There are no clear rules
- The adult’s response can influence or alienate you emotionally
Building influence through emotional connection
Children who are emotionally connected to their parents are more likely to measure their behavior based on their response.
Children, when they find unconditional support in their parents, will be more likely to seek their advice as they grow, to express their opinions and also, they will allow the emotional connection they have with their parents to influence the development of their own values. In addition, when there is a good emotional connection with parents, children, and adolescents will have less need to lie or keep secrets to avoid consequences or reproaches from their parents.
Beware of punishments
Using punishment, criticism, or shame to influence children’s behavior weakens the emotional connection between you. Rather than building their willingness to participate, listen, and learn from you, strict rules and harsh punishments are more likely to create anger and resentment, leaving children feeling misunderstood or disappointed.
The strict rules and harsh consequences will likely make kids do whatever they want, but without you knowing. What happens is that your behavior will be created to avoid negative consequences instead of having an intrinsic motivation to do the right thing. You will change your behavior to avoid problems, rather than changing your attitudes or thoughts, and even your feelings, about what you are doing. Therefore, they will not be learning the true values.
When there are too many rules or those that are not understood, there is less chance that children and adolescents will be able to think for themselves. This will make them not worry about their behavior, nor will they be interested in knowing why some rules are important to living with family or in society.
Not setting rules doesn’t work either.
Being too permissive is not correct either, because then they will not have your guidance or the security of knowing what is expected of them. Children and adolescents who are given less guidance and more freedom than they can handle will be detrimental to their development. Overly permissive parents often try to influence behavior by using gifts or bribes. Although there is nothing wrong with a positive consequence (after football you can go for ice cream), it should never be used as a direct consequence to redirect misbehavior (if you stop hitting your brother, you can play longer to the tablet).
If there are no clear and consistent boundaries in children’s education, the emotional connection can be seriously undermined. Children need limits to be able to work on their own opportunities for children to develop self-control and discipline; otherwise… they will not be able to achieve it.