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Change Limits as Your Child Grows

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The Limit Changing Test

It's a Good Idea!

Some limits are short term. Andy's having trouble staying dry at night, and, at age seven, his bed-wetting is becoming an issue for him. An effective short-term limit might be to limit how much water he can drink at night.

Before you do change your mind on a limit, put it through the “Limit Changing” test, a very simple, two-part exam that will tell you whether you can change a limit—or not.

There are two areas where limits are nonnegotiable:

  • Is it a question of safety?
  • Is it a question of values?

“One, Two, One, Two, Flex and Stretch”

Here's a sentence that should rarely come out of your mouth: “Well, maybe just this time.” Limits should change for reasons, not because your child has worn you down. Sometimes a limit needs to be breached, once, because of an emergency situation (Grandpa had a heart attack, we're racing to the hospital, and no, you don't need to finish your homework or clean your room.).


As your child grows, you can help her build her internal resources, learn self-control, and “internalize” the discipline she is learning by allowing more lenient limits, letting her try new things, and giving her more responsibility. The little child who can step onto the porch without supervision, but no further, now is going to slumber parties and meeting her friends at the movies.

Here's the thing: The fewer limits you present, the closer you need to watch your child. Keep checking in. This is not a time for you to slack off on your paying attention. As a child learns responsibility and safety, she still needs your help defining her own limits, her values, and her ethics. And, of course, when it comes to safety or your family's values, keep those limits firm and explicit!

Reinstating a Limit

Two steps forward and one step back. Progress, learning, and growth do not proceed at a steady pace, and backsliding is common. Sometimes you'll change a limit to include more privileges and responsibilities, just to learn that your child really isn't ready for that big a step. Okay, back up. But be careful not to make your child feel punished, or that she has failed. This would be a good time to have a problem-solving/brainstorming session. A creative solution will give your child the limits and structure she needs without making her feel like a big, bad failure. Perhaps you need to establish a series of gently expanding limits, rather than trying for too much at once.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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