For Moms

How to Set Limits With Empathy and Love

Little people need limits to understand the general rules of life.

It may seem that they despise the restrictions and rules, they want to ignore and test them all the time.

But without limits, life turns into chaos and it is hard to understand what is good, what is right, and welcome.

The most important thing is how those limitations are presented to children – are they communicated as enforcement and threat or as guidance in everyday situations explained with empathy and care?

Implying the limits as threats work for a short time and do not teach the child how to cope with the emotions arising due to restrictions for their actions or wishes.

Therefore they keep “acting out” as they do not know how to act in another way.

Setting limits with kindness while assuring your child that you understand how hard it is to give up desires, you admit that they have a right to feel upset about the restrictions and that it is completely normal to feel the way they feel.

You involve yourself in cooperation with your child who wants to behave according to the rules set and learns self-discipline along the way.

Why Children Keep Breaking Rules

It may be difficult to keep to the rules and do not do things that are not allowed when you are not aware of them.

Imagine yourself signing up for a new gym membership. There are certain rules you must follow in this organization even if you are not aware of them at first.

As a person with life experience, you may ask other members of the gym about certain things which are appropriate to do before the training and where to find the showers or which are the best exercise classes.

Or you may just follow people and see what they are doing and copy them in certain situations.

The same is with little humans who are not aware of certain rules and limitations.

If they are not told that certain behavior is expected from them, they do not know that. They learn a lot about social manners by mimicking their parents and other adults around them.

But, in most cases, they should be taught and told what to do and what is not allowed.

The case when children are aware of the limits and rules but still are not following them is the outcome of our behavior.

Maybe those smart little fellows have found out that there may be cases that limitations are broadened or cancelled in certain situations.

Maybe they know that if they are persistent enough we will make an exclusion for this one time.

Therefore they are constantly testing us if the rules are still valid and unchanged.

Another cause may be that they feel a lack of love and attention.

They feel disconnected and misunderstood. They begin to break rules by looking into our eyes and ask for affection and care.

5 Ways To Set Limits with Love

1. Be Calm Yourself and Act With Empathy

Listen to your child and step in to stop the unreasonable behavior by setting a boundary – but showing that you understand how bad is your child feeling about it and that he has a right for those feelings.

You may be triggered by unpleasant behavior but try to use all the experience and knowledge to handle your emotions.

That way you will show your child the example of coping with unpleasant feelings and treat the little human with respect.

If your child bursts into tears don’t try to distract or stop him. Let him have a cry and let all the hurt and stress chemicals out.

After a good cry, he will feel calmer and more willing to cooperate.

Again, remember how do you feel after a good cry with a caring person supporting you by your side.

2. Reassure Your Little One

Let your little one know that you care for his feelings and you know that he is just learning.

Keep the feeling of closeness between you and your child. This is the best background for raising a little human.

Communicate with your body language and tone of voice that you understand that following the limit is unpleasant and hard and that it was hard for you as well to stick to the rules when you were a child.

But now you know that the limit was good for you as a child and therefore you want your little person to be safe as well.

The realization that the same things are hard, scary, or unpleasant for others as well, eases the resistance and helps to accept boundaries.

3. Be Clear and Confident in Your Limits

Once you made the mind about the limit, communicate it clearly without bringing up all the bad behavior of your child you can remember.

Just state it in the same manner every time your little auditor tests it and let him know that it is unchanged. 

There may be times and situations when your child gets older and smarter and use arguments to defeat the restrictions.

If you see that it could be a good bargain to let your child learn a lesson about good argumentation and proper expression of their opinion, trade the rule for your child’s feelings of self-esteem and self-pride.

4. Adjust Your Expectations

The boundaries should be age-appropriate and may require your involvement at first.

By seeing how the outcome of following the limits makes their parents feel good and by constantly being reminded how it will benefit themselves children will eventually adopt the rules in their mind.

Believe in your child that he wants to be good, act in a good way, and feel appreciated. It is their inner drive to follow the lead if only they are surrounded by love and closeness.

5. Be Consistent in Your Actions

Keep to your rules routinely every day to help them become habits.

If you would add fun, playfulness, and joy in accepting the boundaries, they will not seem so resistful and will be treated as an inevitable part of everyday life.

The Benefits of Cooperation

By involving your child into the process of limit acknowledgment you create cooperation which benefits your child’s feeling of independence, contribution, and authority.

You can use play or tell fantastic stories to make this rule-following act fun and attractive.

When a little person feels safe, not pushed around, and taken into account they will do their best in trying to follow the rules and act in the right way to please their parents.

Children want to be good and want to behave well and follow our guidance.

But as they are purely honest and true to themselves, they can accept guidance from someone they trust and believe in.

You have to earn that trust by showing love and compassion when hard times hit your little one and he feels lost, scared, and angry and behaves in the worst possible ways.

These are the moments when parents must take control of their own emotions and provide support for the little human who is off rails and doesn’t know what is happening to him and how to handle it.

Try to re-establish the feeling of closeness and togetherness before implying your limit if there is time for that and no real danger threatens your little one.

This is a time-consuming process but it will help the little human to hear what you say and understand that it is the restriction that must be followed.

What Should You Do?

The whole process of setting the rules and sticking to them may seem challenging and exhausting, but this hard work pays off.

Plan of action provided by Dr. Laura Markham:

  1. Handling your emotions to teach your child to handle his own.
  2. Always staying close and connected to your child to flood him with a feeling of safety and support.
  3. Coaching your child instead of threatening and punishing to create an atmosphere of cooperation and togetherness.


Setting limits with care and empathy means explaining to the child what is not allowed and what is not OK lovingly and respectfully by keeping the dignity of the little person.

Empathy is fundamental in setting limits. It shows your little fellow that you are on his side and understand him even if the limit you set is fixed.

Mother of one amazing little human and a freelance writer for hire. Loves to write about parenting, health and wellness, motivation, and personal finance.

Leave a Reply