When setting limits, there are two key points to remember:
- The fewer words the better.
- Actions speak louder than words.
My own decades of experience in clinical practice shows me that when parents use discipline phrases of more than 20 words, their children do not respond most of the time. If the emotional tone of that discipline is negative and nagging, children are particularly deaf. This is so hard for many parents because we feel we are so right (actually righteous), compared to our children. We want to believe that the more we correct them, the better they will behave. The data shows exactly the opposite.
Few words only work in the self-control area if you back it up with action. Otherwise, internal shame will turn into the humiliation of being useless. When your child bites someone during a visit, take her home after a simple reprimand, and don’t endlessly berate her in her car seat. The action of losing her playtime speaks louder that anything you might say. Handing a spoon to a child who is mashing food into her mouth at dinner beats a lecture on manners.
Your love and opinion of your children matters deeply to them, especially when they are struggling to develop more self-control. Showing your children that their behavior affects the way you feel, helps children understand that you have feelings, too. Empathy and compassion begin to grow. When children see that their evolving self-control can make their parent feel good, the affirmation adds social and cognitive accomplishment to the achievement of controlling one’s behavior.