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How to Set Limits For Even The Most Stubborn Child

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Inside: You’ll learn how to set limits using enforceable statements and strategic training sessions. This method works for even the most stubborn children!

“Stop doing that right now!”

“Go to bed!”

“Don’t hit your brother!”

“Get in here and clean up these toys!”

Are any of those phrases favorites in your house?

I’ve found those statements coming out of my mouth more times than I can count.

It’s so frustrating to say the same thing over and over to have no one listen.

I felt at a loss for the first 5 years of parenting.

That is until I learned the power of enforceable statements.

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide of Parenting Tips for New Parents

Every time we tell a stubborn person what to do, they don’t comply. We then find ourselves at a loss for what to do next and they learn our words are meaningless.

Love and Logic

How do you set limits for kids?

Mom sits on the couch laughing.

The key to setting limits for even the most stubborn child is using enforceable statements.

Summed up in a few words: enforceable statements are actions you can follow through with.

Because really, the only person you can control is yourself.

When I tell my kids, “We only give TV privileges to those who clean up their rooms.” They know to listen. And if they don’t, I can say, “Oh man, that’s too bad that you decided not to clean up. Now there will be no TV for the rest of the night.”

Or I can say, “I only let kids play with friends when they are being sweet and not sassy.” That’s the cue for my daughter to stop her attitude and start listening.

It’s tricky to get in the habit of enforceable statements when you’re so used to asking and telling stubborn kids what to do, so here are a few examples for you.

Never tell a stubborn child what to do. Instead, describe what you’re willing to do or allow.

Love and Logic

Examples of Enforceable Statements

Mom and daughter smile and touch foreheads.
  • I only give dessert to those who eat all of their dinner. You can finish now or in an hour, but I don’t allow food to go to waste.
  • I’ll read a bedtime story when everyone is sitting still with quiet mouths.
  • I only have $25 to put toward a new outfit. I’m happy to buy those trendy clothes if you can come up with the difference.
  • You may keep all of the toys you pick up.
  • You may be with us as long as you let me and Dad finish our conversation.
  • I do extra things for those who let me sleep at night.
  • That’s great that your friend gets to watch R rated movies. In our house, we only allow PG-13.
  • You may have video game time as long as your room is picked up.
  • I only let kids have cell phones who are paying for the service every month.
  • I call the police when I find drugs or alcohol in my home.
  • You are welcome to live with us for awhile as long as you are fun to be around and you’re working to find a job.

Is it starting to make sense?

Flipping Unenforceable Statements

To really drive the point home, let’s practice turning unenforceable statements into enforceable ones.

Hint: Enforceable statements start with “I only _________,” or “You may _______,” or “Feel free to ______.”

Unenforceable: Stop doing that right now!
Enforceable: I only let kids watch TV when they aren’t jumping on the couch.

Unenforceable: Go to bed!
Enforceable: You may stay awake if you help me clean the kitchen.

Unenforceable: Don’t hit your brother! Quit acting like animals!
Enforceable: You may be an animal outside. I don’t allow wild animals in my house.

Unenforceable: Hurry up! We’re going to be late!
Enforceable: You may choose to put your shoes on quickly or in the car, but I am leaving now.

The Strategic Training Session

Dad comforts teen after going through a strategic training session.

Now that we’ve learned about enforceable statements as well as effective consequences and the importance of empathy, let’s put everything into action with a strategic training session.

Simply said, a strategic training session is a well-thought out plan to help curb some especially negative behavior.

Here’s how to make it happen:

1. Put together a plan

The plan involves identifying the negative behavior and deciding which activity your child enjoys that you want to remove.

Examples include:

  • Playing with friends
  • Having a television or computer
  • Joining the family for a fun activity
  • Driving the family car
  • Having cell phone privileges

2. Get support from others

For an effective strategic training session you need to make sure you have support from the other adults involved in the situation.

These could include your spouse, your child’s teacher, the babysitter, your child’s coach, etc.

3. Set an enforceable limit

You need to have an enforceable limit as part of your strategic training session. The statement will be related to the behavior that you want to stop.

Here are some examples:

  • I let kids play with friends who are being respectful.
  • You may have the computer/TV as long as your homework is done.
  • We do extra things with kids who are acting nicely.
  • You may drive the family car when you are home by curfew.
  • We give cell phone privileges to those who don’t argue with us.

Along with being enforceable (something you can control), the limits need to be consistent between spouses or parenting partners and clear. There can be no room for manipulation from the child.

4. Don’t nag or remind

This is probably the most difficult of the steps.

Why do we like to constantly remind our kids of what they need to do?? Maybe because we love our kids and want to give them as many chances to do what’s right.

(Or maybe because we like to hear ourselves talk and think nagging and reminding will act as a control measure).

Just remember,

Kids will always come to need at least the same number of warnings and reminders as they are given.

Love and Logic

I constantly have to remind myself to not constantly remind my kids to do what they’re told.

By reminding them all of the time to do what’s right we’re actually setting them up for failure in other areas of life.

Freedom is learned and so is being responsible.

5. Allow empathy and consequences to do the teaching

Part of the strategic training session is assuming we’ll have to follow through with taking away our kids’ privileges.

When this happens, it helps to remember our emphatic statements and natural consequences.

We don’t use threats, or reminders, or anger, or frustration.

We just following through with the plan.

Strategic Training Session Examples

Stubborn child raises her arms in the air and makes a face.

Here are a few examples of how your strategic training session might go for two different ages.

Kids Who Don’t Go To Sleep

Problem: Two siblings won’t stay in their rooms when put to bed. They keep their parents up all night long.

The Plan: The parents called a neighbor to babysit. She arrived at the time the children usually started coming out of their rooms.

Empathy and Consequences: The parents hugged their children and said, “This is so sad. You guys keep us up so much every night that we are too tired to keep taking care of you. Haley is here to babysit you now. You may want to start thinking about how you can pay her for your time. We love you!”

Teen Who Misses The Bus

Problem: Teen has a bad habit of sleeping late, dawdling around, and missing the school bus, creating a big problem for the two working parents.

The Plan: The parents called a youth counselor from the community mental health center to be in their home when their son woke late in the morning.

Empathy and Consequences: The counselor said “Your parents are tired of being late so they called me. Since you missed the bus, I’ll be happy to drive you to school for $15.”

The teen responds that he’ll just stay home.

The counselor says, “No problem at all. I charge $15 an hour to hang out with kids and make sure they don’t get into trouble.

The teen says he’s not giving him a dime because he doesn’t have any money.

The counselor calmly responds, “That’s OK. Your parents told me that you have lots of things to sell like your skateboard, bike, or iPhone.”

Needless to say, the teen realized that it was a smart decision to start setting his alarm clock every morning.

Want More?

If you liked this post, be sure to check out my other posts about teaching kids responsibility and what to do when your consequences for talking back aren’t working.

Your Turn

Do you have any success stories with setting limits for your kids?

Let me know in the comments!

The content for this post came from a parenting course I took based on Love and Logic®.

You can find an in-person course here, if you’re local to Utah.

Or you can order the book to start transforming how you parent when it comes to chores, eating, homework, lying, picking up, and so much more.

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A Pinterest image with text and a stubborn girl folding her arms above her head.