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I can't let you hurt me- setting loving limits with young children about physical safety

Submitted by Heather on Wed, 10/12/2016 - 18:12

Many, if not all, children go through some period in their young lives where they get angry and physically lash out at their parents. This is a hard situation to be in as we want to protect ourselves and stop this behavior.  It can also trigger our own anger or fears when this happens. There are a couple of things we suggest in these scenarios. Sometimes a child needs to physically get the aggression out and might welcome a pillow to hit or throw instead of you. Sometimes this isn't enough, they just need a limit, and your presence while they regulate themselves. This could mean you give them a safe space to thrash about, but keep yourself clear and let them know you are there when they need you but that you need to keep yourself safe, as well. If they are ready to be gentle, you can come in closer, or if they keep coming at you and you can't find a safe way to be separate, you might hold them carefully while they rage until they are regulated and don’t need you to hold them any longer.

If you have a hard time regulating your own feelings when your child is angry, it may also help to have another parent or adult step in for you while you care for your own feelings. Time away may be needed so that you can help your child instead of escalating the situation. Empathy is important for yourself as well as for your child, care deeply for both to get yourself through these tumultuous moments.

Of course, there are many other scenarios in which parents feel it is needed to set a limit. Often these are safety related, schedule related, or have to do with limits on television/sugar, etc.

At the checkout counter your child wants that candy bar and you say no because it isn't healthy for them and they start to get really upset. In these moments it's best to empathize while holding the limit. They still can't have it, it won't harm them for you to set that limit, it's an important one and they will learn that you are keeping them safe by holding firm but caring boundaries for them.

We all want our children to be happy. Sometimes this can mean we struggle with any unhappiness our child might have, even for a short periods of time. Although we advocate for a non-punitive approach, we also advocate for clear limits and expectations.  With any kind of conflict of needs, implementing and negotiating solutions to meet everyone’s needs can work beautifully, but it's important to ensure that our needs are being met as well as the child's lest we send the message that the only important thing in their world is their satisfaction all the time at the cost of the needs of others.