Using Limits to Keep Peace

When my son Aidan would not do what I asked or behaved disrespectfully, he and I would both get very angry. My husband would yell at him and Aidan would cry, and I would feel terribly upset with the overall negativity hanging over my family like a dark cloud.

I would like to give you two resources I found and two methods I used that quickly changed my son’s behavior to that of a boy who was eager to please and where the negativity ended in the course of one day.


I desperately did not want to have this negative vibe in my home and it wasn’t long that I found out about a book called Setting Limits: How to Raise Responsible, Independent Children by Proving CLEAR Boundaries by Robert J. MacKenzie, Ed.D. In his book, MacKenzie shows you the family “dance” you do by either being too permissive or too authoritarian in discipline. He shows you how to say exactly what you want (as opposed to what you DON’T want) and the clear consequences if the child does not follow through. It puts the responsibility on the child alone.


I don’t know if this show is on anymore but I got some great advice from Jo Frost from Super Nanny when she’d make up all these fun charts and prizes. We never needed to use a naughty chair that much, but time outs did work when Aidan was under three years. I always liked her fun and creative ways to encourage good behavior.


Idea from Super Nanny

An effective strategy we’ve used in my family to get our son to behave when he was between 2-4 years old is a sticker chart. We’d make up a 7 day chart vertically then divide it horizontally with a smiley face for good behavior on the left and a frowny face for bad behavior on the right.

During the course of the day Aidan would get a sticker for behaving well or an X in the frowny face half of the chart. If he had more stickers at the end of the day, he could watch his favorite show before bedtime. At the end of the week, if Aidan had more stickers than Xs, we’d get him a little surprise, like a yo-yo or a coloring book. Build up the surprises and rewards as big deals – they are to little kids. Even getting a sticker is exciting for little kids. This encourages good behavior.


This is one of the methods that we’ve used after reading the book, Setting Limits.

Kids like to play with their toys, but they don’t like cleaning them up. One good way to get your child to cooperate with keeping his or her toys off the floor is to simply take away the favorite toy that’s left out carelessly.

You need to warn beforehand though. Tell your child twice – one time to give notice that you will be taking the toy away if the chore is not done, then give them some time. If it is not done 5 minutes (or within a reasonable timeframe) before the time is up, then say as such. Use kitchen timer for effectiveness. “You have five minutes to pick up this mess. If it is not done by the time the bell rings, then I am taking your Buzz Lightyear away for the rest of today and tomorrow.”

It took only one time for me to put Aidan’s toy Story action figures high up in the closet for the rest of the day and the next for him not to leave them out in the living room again. There was some whining, but as the parent who has set these boundaries, you don’t have to yell back. All you need to say is that better choices can be made next time.

As Aidan gets older, privileges are now as important as his belongings. Aidan’s at the age where he loves to watch a cartoon episode of The Last Airbender on Netflix every night before bed. He excitedly looks forward to it every day.

But his teacher has been giving us reports that he’s not paying attention in class, is name calling and doesn’t complete his school work. We’ve told him that until his behavior at school improves, then we take away his privilege of his favorite show.

Know what is important to your child, then leverage that with insisting on reasonable, proper behavior.

These two methods have served our family well since our son was about two years old and he’s going on six now. There is no yelling in our family and we have relative peace. The next big issue to handle is disrespectful backtalk. Back to the book again!

Amy Tanathorn is a work-at-home mom who shares her and her son’s love of Pixar movies on The Leaping Lamp. You’ll find the synopsis and characters for each movie as well as the best Disney Pixar merchandise and party supplies.

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