Setting Limits Helped My Daughter Cooperate Willingly

My six year old daughter seemed fine when she came home from school.  Her nine year old brother had been sick for three days and I was looking forward to her being with us.  However, it wasn’t long before she started being cutting snowflakesuncooperative, demanding and grumpy.

She said, “No, I’m not putting my backpack away” and then commanded, “Get me some milk.”  This was really a jolt to my system after a quiet day with my son. I didn’t like where this was going so I decided to set a limit and see what would happen.

She was cutting snowflakes at the table and I put my hand over hers saying, “Honey, your backpack needs to be put away, so I cannot let you cut anymore snowflakes until you do that.”  She screamed at me, “Noooooo” and stomped off to the living room.  I followed her, moved in next to her warmly and put my hand on her knee.  Instantly, she put her head on my lap and sobbed for about 30 minutes.

She told me that it wasn’t fair that her brother got to stay home with me and that we all did stuff that he wanted to do.  She was able to offload her feelings of being left out and the unfairness of me doting on her brother.  After about 30 minutes of this, without me saying a word, she got up and put her backpack away.  I got her a glass of milk and we calmly and playfully sat at the table making more snowflakes.  It was amazing to watch the shift in her after she got her big feelings out.

-Certified Instructor, Kristen Volk

5 thoughts on “Setting Limits Helped My Daughter Cooperate Willingly

  1. i find this such a cat and mouse play. Yes , when we give limits lovingly they will do what ‘we want ‘ or cooporate. But what if we just simply understand that they have unmet needs and act on it? Like with this one : seeing the girl is upset and knowing these are unmet needs and give a hug or understandment imideatly? I mean understanding that when she s commanding for milk and saying no I dont want to put my backpack away is allready enough for me to understand that thats her way of expressing ‘bad’ feelings. No need to go further and setting limits , except for ourselfs in stopping at that moment and understanding and giving full attention to her to see why she is not cooporating. The way you write the story , it is nice and peacefull but it still comes down to you pushing her limits ( by not understanding her, putting hand on cornflakes, demanding a limit) and then finaly when she s crying and explainig you understand her. So to me that is still forcing it into an adult way of how to behave. ( her explaining , and then its okay ). I deal with this daily 😉 with my kids by the way. And learning to see that it more up to me understanding their needs asap instead of going all the way to limit story. If we understand them fully and lovingly , kids always want to do what ever we want. Its their nature. So when they dont cooporate , I think we should always look within ourselfs.

  2. This makes me think about some recent stuff I have been trying with my 6 year old daughter lately. I find that when we come to a conflict, and she is upset, if I express empathy by reflecting her words and make sure I understand her complaint, then explain my issue or need that conflicts with that in an I message, when I say how can we solve this together, she almost always comes up with a solution that meets both of our needs. It comes down to respect, I respect her needs and she respects mine automatically. I started doing this more and she started expressing more love and connection with me.

    Another thing that has come to mind recently a lot, is the deep seated programming around “teaching a lesson” that I’ve been struggling against actively. This comes up and I want to justify my disconnect and disrespect as part of her needing a ‘natural’ consequence. To explain– At bedtime I have found that when she takes a long time getting ready, I resort to saying that we won’t have time for our reading together. This is true, but there is an edge to it in my tone that doesn’t need to be there. Last night I became conscious of this and I said with empathy and love as I would in other situations where I anticipate that she might not be happy about something, “Honey, We are going to need to find another time to read a story, tonight it is just too late for it.” I was amazed, she turned to me happily and said “Mama, how about we just read one sentence?” I said okay, that’s what we did and lights were out right after. No conflict at all. And I can’t help but think that she still will remember next time that she might miss her story if she is taking too long to get ready, the limit was there but there was no edge.

  3. What a great conversation that’s started here! It really got me thinking about all the different ways we can handle our child’s emotional moments.

    I noticed that in situations like these I do a variety of things depending on my take on the situation. Sometimes I offer empathy and understanding with my words and body language, sometimes I do things like pick up her backpack and get her the milk while staying emotionally and physically available, sometimes I move in playfully with snuggles and sometimes I set a limit like this mom did.

    All of the options above can come from our desire to connect with our children, to show them we care and give them the space to express their upset in the fullest way possible. It is in knowing our children, and knowing all the moments that led to this one, that we make the best choice we can about what will serve our child in the situation.

    I can think of times where I have offered empathy and warm understanding first only to get the brush off from my daughter. She may then isolate or distract herself at first only to find really obvious limits to push (like asking for ice cream right before dinner). In times like these it is only when I set a warm limit with her that she can start to show me all the emotional debris she’s been holding.

    What I have found is that offering verbal empathy and trying to have a conversation on how we can get our needs met only works when my child isn’t already carrying a big upset. When our children are filled up with big feelings it’s just too hard to think clearly. It’s too hard to feel the love and empathy that’s right there. It is only after the upset spills out that my child’s thinking clears and she’s ready to come up with a solution and take in the love and caring I have for her. These feelings that were blocking her good thinking usually come out over a limit b/c she needed something to push against in order to fully feel the upset.

    Thanks for sharing your story Kristen!

  4. It’s so great that you Moms are thinking well about your children’s feelings, and are wiling to stay connected and listen to them. Kristen beautifully described the Parenting by Connection approach to limits, in which we do meet our child’s need for understanding and connection by pouring in our warmth and presence at the same time we are setting the limit. We say ‘no’ to a certain behavior, while we are saying “YES” to giving them our love and attention.

    Sometimes it happens with my son that when I reflect back what he said and give him a little empathy, he does what I’m asking or proposes his own idea, and we move happily along. But when he has some stored up tension, which may be re-stimulating some early fears, empathy is not enough. He’s stuck in a loop of bad feelings and he’s signaling me through his off-track behavior that he really needs help releasing those feelings. Comforting him or negotiating with him to meet what I’m guessing he needs, may work in the short term, but then the off-track behavior will pop up again or eek out later. In effect the comfort is helping him to ‘tamp down’ the tension and feelings, but they are still there. Our children are so brilliant in that they are driven to heal and release those feelings that gets stuck in their limbic system. The kindest and most loving thing I can do for my son is to slowly move close, meet his need for connection, appreciation and love, and set some small limit for him to bump up against.

    My intention is not to ‘teach him a lesson’ or even to manage or control his behavior. In fact, in the end, hanging up his back pack is not the most important thing. What I’ve found is that when I set a limit and my son gets a chance to release the stuck feelings and tension, he is then capable of thinking well. The cooperation comes as a result of his good thinking, not because I set a limit and ‘made’ him do it. I see that this process creates resiliency in my son because we’re actually healing old hurts, not just attending to current unmet needs. I hope I’ve added to your great discussion around this subject.

    Peace & Smiles, Kathy

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