Are you wondering if you are being too strict with your child? Do your kids make you feel like an ogre when you set limits? Does the word “no” kick off whining, yelling and protests? How many times have you heard your nine-year-old say something like:

That’s not fair! Brandon’s mom lets him watch Sons of Anarchy!” Or does this sound familiar: “Jessica’s dad lets her stay out ‘til 10 on school nights! Why can’t you?

It can be hard to know sometimes if the limits you set are reasonable or not, especially when your kids are howling that “everyone else is allowed to do it!” On top of that, how do you know that the limits you set even work?

Kids need limits, and count on parents to set them in order to keep them safe and help them grow. Setting limits is an act of love.

Whether you are just beginning to set limits, or are adjusting your limits to match your child’s unique needs and developmental changes, here are some tips to make setting limits, and feeling confident about those limits, easier.

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1. Start from Your Values

Be clear about the values you want to instill in your family. If eating dinner together at home is important, make that an expectation. If treating people fairly is essential, make sure your limits support that. Knowing that your limits are based on your values helps during those times when your child pushes back and says you’re the worst parent in the world. You’ll find it easier to resist giving in to that argument.

2. Communicate the Limits

Try saying to your child something like, “Things are going to change, and you can expect that dad and I will deal with your behavior differently.” Or, “Now that you’re older, we need to have some rules about going to parties.” Then let your child know the limits and the consequences for either following or not following the rules. Be clear and specific. This is not a one-time event, but rather a process that will likely take repeated refresher discussions along the way.

3. Monitor How Your Child Responds

What did your child do? Not immediately, because change is a process and takes time, but over time. Are you able to observe some improvement in behavior, even if it’s slight? For instance, you set curfew for your teen, and at first he didn’t seem to care. But when you started to take the car keys away, he began to come home closer and closer to the curfew. Now he is routinely coming in on time.For younger kids, it may be helpful to have a chart or calendar where behaviors are recorded. Kids often like to participate in this activity, especially if they get to put the sticker on the chart for behaving correctly. For older kids, charting behavior helps them get a better perspective on their ability to change over time. Even if they had a terrible day yesterday, they can see that they’ve been doing so much better during the past few weeks, and so there’s hope for continued success.

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4. Be Matter-of-Fact

Try not to personalize the misbehavior. If your child starts to feel the power to “hurt” you with his misbehavior, this can easily lead to manipulative behavior. Instead, focus on the behavior and your child’s need to change. Help them understand that the misbehavior is hurtful to them and worth changing. If you are angry, wait to talk with your child until your anger has cooled. You can say, “I’m not ready to talk with you right now. I’ll talk with you when I am. Just wait”.

5. Be Prepared

Do you sometimes just react to your child’s misbehavior, handing down whatever punishment happens to come to mind? Instead, try sitting down and calmly thinking about what behavior you are trying to target. Then you can think more clearly about what consequence would be most effective in promoting change. Develop a list of meaningful consequences in a quiet moment. You know your kids best, what they hold near and dear. Consequences are most impactful when your child really cares either about avoiding the loss of something (computer time, going to her friends overnight, the car, the concert) or about gaining something (time with dad, a hiking trip with friends, an overnight, the car, a concert).Remember, it’s important for both parents to share any plan that is developed and be on the same page, or at least be willing to support each other in the process.

6. Consequences Need Time Limits

You need to set limits and impose consequences that allow your child to grow and change. Part of this is setting limits with appropriate timeframes. Younger kids have a very different sense of time than adults. A weeklong consequence for a six-year-old may feel never-ending to her, where your 10-year-old can more easily feel like there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. If you ground your teen for the rest of his life, (while you may definitely feel that way at the time) he will immediately know that you are setting a limit you can’t hold him to.For some kids, it’s helpful to set limits in small increments so they can experience success. “If you are able to make it through this evening without fighting with your brother, you will earn back 20 minutes of computer time tomorrow night.” Having do-able steps is especially important for kids with moderate to severe behavior problems as they can often experience failure and feelings of defeat.

7. Monitor Yourself

Watch that you’re not falling into old patterns of screaming and yelling or ignoring misbehavior. It’s difficult for us, too, as parents to change. Keep at it.

8. Start Limit Setting Early

It’s much harder to begin setting limits for the first time when your child is a teenager whose “job” it is to push back on limits, especially those set by parents. But remember, you can start any time.

9. Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

When things don’t seem to be working, try looking for the little changes you can observe in your own behavior—even if they aren’t yet impacting your child. Did you make a plan and stick with it? Did you make a decision and hold firm? Were you able to tell your child what you expected of him without screaming and yelling? If you did any of these things, you are making progress.There may be relapses by you or your child. You may get “lazy” about follow-through; or your child who was doing so well playing at recess gets into a fight. Keep small set-backs in perspective, and try thinking one day at a time. It may also be time to review your limits and consequences and see if they need adjusting.

10. Don’t Look for Validation from Your Child

If you’re looking for validation from your kids, you’re giving them too much power. Their job is not to be your friend, or to thank you for setting limits to help them control their behavior. Part of being a parent is setting limits, teaching better behaviors, and coaching your children as they begin to use those improved behaviors. This is a hard job, and at times you can feel pretty alone. Talk to other parents who you trust. Discuss the problems with your partner, and support each other in the changes. Talk with a teacher or guidance counselor who understands your child and some of the unique challenges he or she presents.

Parents often feel that by setting limits, they will lose their child’s love. Just the opposite is true. Kids need limits, and count on parents to set those for them to keep them safe and help them grow. Setting limits is an act of love.

Related: How to use limits effectively and get your kids to listen.

As you start setting and holding your children to more consistent limits, you might feel that you are being overly strict. Aiming for consistency may also feel rigid to parents who are used to a looser household. Remember that limit-setting is just one part of effective parenting and needs to be paired with teaching and coaching.

Children aren’t going to change their behavior simply due to limits. Kids also need parents to teach better problem-solving skills and to coach them as they try out the new skills and behaviors. They may never say thank you, but setting limits is one of the best gifts you can give your child.

Related Content:
Am I Being Too Strict? How to Safely Give Your Child More Freedom
Teen Curfews—How and When to Negotiate


Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.

Comments (5)
  • mom_nj
    I have 9 year old boy who has ADHD and ASD. I'm single Mom living few blocks away from his biological father.I were able to handle and get in track till 8 years.This year seems so hard for me,caught up lies from school home works,using abusive words, F and BMore words, I'm tired of taking away his tv ,electronic device time and also I tried being gentle appreciating him for good deeds and encouraging.Its really hard for me ,every day same things, repeatedly even when scheduled, from morning wake up time till bed time.He taking out stress and frustration in me and blaming me for everything, When ever he goes to his fathers place and returns home, he shows anger in me and throws his feelings when he is upset and feeling low self esteem and discouraged.I feel he is also taking advantage and also hard time to express and get help.I need some suggestions and help!! Thanks in advance!
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport


      It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. It

      can be tough to know the motivation behind a child’s behavior. From our

      perspective, most kids act out because they lack the skills to effectively deal

      with tough situations appropriately or effectively. Kids with certain diagnosis

      may find developing these skills especially difficult. Spectrum disorders in

      particular can impact both a child’s development and his perspective on the

      world. For that reason, it is going to be important to work closely with your

      son’s treatment team when developing ways of addressing these behaviors and

      also helping him develop more effective skills. Someone who is familiar with

      your son would be in a much better position to determine what tools and

      techniques are going to work best for him. Responding in ways that are both

      calm and non-confrontational is also going to be important. We have several

      articles that offer tips on remaining calm when your child is acting out and

      pushing your buttons. One in particular you may find helpful is  https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/calm-parenting-stop-letting-your-childs-behavior-make-you-crazy/. We appreciate

      you writing in and wish you and your son the best of luck moving forward. Take


  • jeffreypgrimes
    I like this site I have been doing a essay on strict parents and this helped me thanks
  • Guest
    Thanks for the interesting read!
  • Joanne

    I happened onto your website via a search and very much like what I see so far. My husband picked up the TTTP b/c he and my younger son (who was 13? at the time) were always at odds. They have similar, reactive personalities and kept clashing and trying to control each other's behaviors vs. finding a way to communicate effectively and work things out. 

    TTTP gave my husband a lot of insight into his behavior and my son's, as well as a lot of concrete tools to work with. They occasionally lock horns now, but have grown very close. They exercise together, shoot baskets for fun and enjoy the camaraderie one hopes a father/son team would.

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