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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Setting Limits: A Place for Humor

     “Mom, can I have this?”

     “No, you cannot. Put it down.” 

     “But Mom, I need this toy!” 

     “You can’t have it, put it down. I already said no; I don’t           know why it’s so hard for you to understand that. We need       to go anyway.” 

     “MOOOOOMMMM!!!” Cue the meltdown...

How many times has this scenario happened to you? When children become frustrated, angry, or anxious, it can be difficult to diffuse the situation. Limits can seem like challenges, and yelling can be a powerful way for a child to protest their disagreement. However, it is possible to regain the upper hand with the timely use of humor. 

What would happen if instead of responding with frustration, you responded with empathy, sprinkled with humor? How would that change the interaction and your feelings about each other? Let’s rewind the situation we just examined and make a few changes.

     “Mom, can I have this?”

     “No, you cannot. Put it down.” 

     “But Mom, I need this toy!”

     “You need it? Oooooh, it’s so tough to want something so much and not be able to have it.”                Pause. “You know what I want right now but can’t have? Ice cream. All of the ice cream in the          world. But where would I put it? Would there be a large enough bowl?”

     “No way! You’d have to use a bathtub, or maybe even a pool!”

The whole tone of what happens after a limit is set can depend on the parent.  How you respond greatly impacts the direction your child will move.  In the first example, the parent was clearly frustrated (understandably so) and in a hurry to move on.  The child did not feel heard, so he made sure he was heard with a yell!  In the second example, the parent acknowledged the child’s feelings, gave him space to have the feeling, and then moved forward with a dose of random silliness.  This allowed the child to move on from the stuck place of not getting what he wanted. 

Children tend to follow a parent’s lead. 

Where do you want to take them? 

Emily Herber is a child and family therapist at the Center for Psychological Services.
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