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Ch. 4: Setting Empathic Limits

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  • Ch. 4: Setting Empathic Limits


    Pg. 182: "And that's the biggest secret of setting limits. You can't really make anyone do anything. Your child complies with your requests because of the strong relationship of trust and affection between you. The other option, of course, is fear, which is an effective motivator in the moment. But because you have to keep escalating your threats, fear becomes less and less effective over time. Love, by contrast, becomes a more effective motivator over time.


    So how do you set effective limits?


    - Start with a strong, supportive connection with your child.
    - Don't start talking until you're connected.
    - Join with her as you set the limit.
    - Set the limit calmly, kindly, and with genuine empathy.
    - Acknowledge her point of view as you set the limit.
    - Help your child feel less "pushed around" by offering a choice.
    - Get agreement so your child "owns" the limit.
    - Follow through, pleasantly.
    - Keep joining and empathizing.
    - Limit the negotiations.
    - Don't expect him to like it.
    - When you can't grant a wish in reality, grant it in fantasy.
    - If your child cries or rages at your limit, listen to her feelings.
    - Respond to the need or feeling that's driving the behavior.
    - Resist the temptation to be punitive in any way.
    - When your child defies you, focus on the relationship, rather than on the discipline.
    - When all else fails, try a hug."


    Which of these do you find the hardest or most effective for you to set? Do you have an example of how empathic limit setting has proven to be effective in your household?


    The one I found to be most effective recently was the "When your child defies you, focus on the relationship, rather than on discipline". My daughter is 9.5 years old so is at that age where she is starting to test the bigger limits by exerting her own view of power. So, for example, when we've asked her to go take a shower or go to bed, sometimes she's responded with "No". At first this would trigger me to where I would want to impose a consequence for saying "No" to us, just as I would have had happen to me as a child. Instead, following Dr. Laura Markham's example, I just kindly ask again making sure to stress "please". I don't say it in a pleading tone. I say it firmly and respectively. She'll usually respond after a minute or two... enough for it to be obvious that she decided it was time and not us.


    I know being empathic with our limits along with our connection is working. Just a few months ago, one of her friends was over. They were in the dining room and I was in the office. I guess the friend wanted to do something that my daughter knew I would not approve of. So I heard her say very firmly, "I listen very carefully to what my mom says." I felt so proud in that moment. It proved to me that attachment really does make a difference with their decisions as they grow up.
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