By Marc Bermann, JCFS Foster Parent Recruiter/Trainer
At some point, parents have to set limits on their children's behavior. Children need structure and discipline, but not every kind of parental response is effective. Impulsively, some parents resort to harsh discipline and lecturing to help their children behave, but there are much better options. The first step toward using any form of discipline is to set clear and firm limits. A parent needs to make clear requests in an unemotional, objective way, and needs to follow through to ensure that the request has been heard and understood. For these skills, practice makes perfect.
The limits set for behavior should be based on rules established at home. Once again, the key is being clear and consistent, especially for trauma-affected children, who may have been victims of unclear and inconsistent messages from the parents and care-givers who were supposed to keep these children safe. Many families have unwritten rules that are generally understood, such taking shoes off at the door and not throwing balls in the house. Some children need the rules spelled out for them, so it may be helpful to make a brief list, using age-appropriate and positive language, and communicate as much as possible with pictures and drawings. Don't make a list too long or complicated, and don't put anything on the list that will not be followed-up with a consequence. Good house rules should be about safety and respect for others.
A list of rules can make it easier for children to see what behaviors are tolerated. Just as it is important for a child to understand what behavior will be encouraged, she must also understand which behaviors are unacceptable. The key to successful limit-setting is clear, consistent communication with patience and a positive attitude, free of judgment and criticism.
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