Summer often brings an increase in requests for expanded curfews and more time playing video games, hanging out with friends, and staying up late. If not careful, this can create a world of increased verbal prompts, reminders, heated discussions, and ultimately arguments and screaming matches.
“But Mom…you said I could stay up later! That’s not fair.”
In various ways, we can find where children will misinterpret even the simplest of communications about limits, but ONLY and ALWAYS in their favor. They seem to push the limit, despite the repeated struggles.
And yet, limits are important for children because this allows us to have some predictability in our home, and in the big picture…limits teach kids what to expect about reality. As they go through the educational system, get jobs, have friendships and romantic relationships, there will always be limits.
The summer struggles can sometimes prompt us into a sense of hopelessness, and then just giving up. We go to bed leaving the whole crew playing a game we don’t approve of…or we give in and let them to their third sleepover this week.
I counseled a single mom whose six-year-old son regularly goes to bed between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, falling asleep in front of his computer with his mom. My client explained, “Ethan just wants to be with me… and I can’t stand to put him to bed mad at me.”
Another client complained about her overweight son, who wouldn’t stop eating. Yet, she acknowledged that she continued to buy the junk food he demands.
A couple seeking help for their son explained that their son typically did his homework in the car, traveling from a sports practice or event to a piano or karate lesson. They explained that they really want him to try anything he wants to do.
Another recent example comes from a single dad who works many, many hours, and leaves almost all of the childcare to a neighbor. Out of guilt, he then compensates and tries to do everything the children want to do, and just keeps buying and buying and buying…until he has no money left.
There’s a different way.
Children need and benefit from reality-based limits, even this summer.
The critical role of limit setting is really about understanding the way the world works (i.e., reality). Without limits, children grow up believing there are no limits to how negative, demanding behavior can get them what they want. The expectation that you can simply ask, or demand, or throw a tantrum and you’ll get what you want does not reflect reality.
It’s essential to keep your focus on the long-term vision of what you want your children to learn. If you abandon that vision to avoid a painful or uncomfortable moment, you are likely relieving your immediate anxiety rather than making healthy parenting choices. Is it easier to buy the toy than deal with the tantrum? Yes! Is it easier to let them watch one more TV show than struggle over turning it off? Yes! Is it easier to do those chores yourself than make sure the kids do them? You bet!
It may seem easier in the short term, but in the long term, you’re better off setting limits and sticking to them. If you don’t, there’ll be more trouble down the road.
This summer, consider keeping it simple. Don’t talk so much about limits, and curfews, and behavior. Instead, be more action-oriented. Be willing to cut things off rather than asking them to cut them off. Be willing to come home early when disrespect shows up in public. Be willing to shut down the Internet, when you see that screen time is being ignored.
The key to summer serenity is setting limits with action…not words. Give it try!