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This past month, I was preparing for a program for grandparents raising grandchildren. One of the topics that they wanted to discuss was on setting and enforcing limits. The information is not only valuable for grandparents raising grandchildren but any parent. There are many ways to raise children, and if you have more than one, you too know what works for one child may not work for another. And some days, it seems like nothing works.

Most of us fall into one of four basic parenting styles, although none of them are always consistent.

— Dictator parents set clear rules and enforce them, but don’t show as much warmth and affection as other parents.

— Permissive parents are child-centered and nurturing, but have trouble saying no and afraid to set limits.

— Uninvolved parents don’t set limits or have high expectations and are typically not warm or affectionate either.

— Authoritative parents set clear expectations for their children and follow through on rules. Yet, while they set firm rules and consequences for disobedience, they are warm and affectionate toward their children.

Research shows that children raised by authoritative parents are independent, happy and get along with their peers. They are also self-controlled and have good self-esteem. This combination of love and limits seems to produce more cooperative children who do better in school.

Sometimes children misbehave because they don’t know what is expected of him/her. When rules and limits are enforced, along with a warm and nurturing environment, children learn about expectations. They also feel safe and secure, knowing that someone cares.

Some children may need more rules while other children can manage with fewer. It is better to have limits for more important things. Too many limits can be frustrating and hard to remember for a child. Children feel more secure with routine, consistency, follow-through, and even with discipline because then the children will know you mean what you say.

Setting appropriate limits and enforcing consequences are important parts of authoritative parenting. Here are some tips to follow when setting limits for your grandchildren:

— Set as few limits as possible. If you set too many limits, it becomes impossible to enforce them.

— Enforce the limits set. If limits are not enforced, your child will begin to question whether you really mean them.

— Set clear rules the children will understand.

— Let your children know what they can do.

— Tell your children the consequences of breaking the rules beforehand and make the consequences reasonable, respectful and related to the deed.

— Help your children understand why limits are set.

— Every child will sometimes choose unacceptable behavior. This is your opportunity to help children learn better ways to act.

Effective ways to correct a child’s bad behavior are:

— Get at eye level with your children and touch them firmly on the shoulder or arm to get their attention.

— Use a quiet, firm voice to send the message that you are in control and serious, and that you are going to talk to them about something important.

— Tell your children what they did wrong without turning it into a lecture.

— Ask your children what they will do next time.

— Tell your children that they are good and that you expect that they will do better next time.

— Give your children a hug.

For school-age children:

— Have children help set the rules. Remember that some rules are negotiable, and some are not.

— Only set rules that are necessary. Too many rules make children feel overwhelmed and rebellious. Fewer rules or limits make it clear to children what is expected of them.

— When possible, involve the children in deciding the consequences ahead of time.

— Take into consideration the child’s abilities and skills. Four-year olds and 12-year-olds will not have the same rules, nor will children with developmental delays or special needs.

Sometimes we need to realize that our behavior may need to be altered to create positive changes in the child’s behavior. It is the combination of love and limits that we need to strive for as parents and grandparents.

For more information on family-life-related topics and programs, visit our local University of Illinois Extension website at or contact Chelsey Byers Gerstenecker at 217-333-7672 or