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Tests Limits

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I may not like it, but I can handle it. This is what normal, healthy, curious children do. They test limits, just like my child is."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "I can see this problem from my child's point of view-he doesn't know what is dangerous and what is not. I think I understand how he feels-he's curious about everything!"

Teach. Tell yourself, "It is important that my child learns the dangers of chewing on electric cords or climbing over the back fence. I'll teach him how to explore his world safely and give him the freedom he wants when he can handle it. Balance is the key!"

Make Rules. Making rules about where your child can and cannot go gives her boundaries that she needs in order to feel safe and know what to expect. Say for example, "The rule is, you must ask me first before you leave the playground."

Practice and Praise Rule Following. Say, I know that you want to cross the street to go to Ellie's house. Let's practice how to safely cross the street." Then when your child asks you to help him cross the street, say, "Thanks for asking to cross the street. Stop at the curb. Now hold my hand, so we can safely cross the street."

Enforce Helmet Rules. Before your child goes out to ride his bike, scooter or skateboard, make sure he follows your rule that he must wear a protective helmet while riding. Check frequently to make sure he is following the rule and praise him for doing so.

Be Aware. Tie bells to your toddler's shoes, so you know where she is in the house at all times. When things are quiet, it's time to go check.

Offer Rewards for Staying within Limits. Encourage your child to stay within the limits by rewarding him for doing so. Say for example, "I'm happy you stayed at the playground. Now you may play for five more minutes."

Be There. You can only teach your young child how to manage your rules and boundaries if you are there with him.

Have Consequences for Not Following Rules. Teach your child that not followin your rule about staying on the playground, for example, brings his fun to a stop. Say for example, "Because you left the playground without asking, we won't be able to come here tomorrow." Then follow through with the consequence that you've stated for not following the rule-no playground tomorrow.

Be Consistent. Make sure you enforce the rule every time your child breaks one. This teaches him you mean what you say. It also helps him feel more secure about his actions when he's away from you, because he'll clearly know what you expect him to do-follow the rules at his childcare center, school, camp, etc.

Use Frequent Praise for Staying Within Boundaries. While watching your child explore or play outside, take time out to praise his staying within the boundaries. For example, say, "I like how you are staying in the yard," or, "You are being so careful as you climb."

What not to do:

Don't Spank Your Child for Going into the Street. Spanking doesn't prevent your child from doing something again-it just encourages your child to hide from you the next time he does what you punished him for. Children who sneak into the street are in great danger, of course, so don't add to the problem by making them want to do it on the sly.

Don't Overreact When Your Child Pushes Limits. When you panic and yell about danger, or nervously tell your child, "Be careful!" every time he makes a move, he'll senses your stress, which may cause him to panic and hurt himself. If you think he is not ready physically to climb on a jungle gym, for example, explain to your child why you are concerned, and in a calm voice, redirect him to another activity he can do safely.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.