When Kids Push The Limits (Dos and Don’ts)

When your child decides to push boundaries and break rules, what should you do about it? This post discusses what to do and what not to do about it.

grumpy child scowling at the camera with a red background behind her

As I write this, it is summer. Something that comes with summer is less structure and therefore more freedoms for the child. This can lead to a child basically doing whatever she wants to, or in other words, being “wise in her own eyes.”

“Wise in own eyes” can definitely happen no matter the season. The question becomes, what do we parents do when this happens? And notice I said when and not if. All children have moments of being “too big for their britches.” 

Once a child is wise in their own eyes, they will test limits. This is true no matter what age they are. Here are some tips for what to do and what not to do.

Do Understand What Is and Isn’t Appropriate For Your Child

Let’s say your child takes off from the park on her own and rides home on her bike without asking you first (real-life experience for me this month). Was that appropriate? Why or why not? Think through what freedoms are appropriate for your child and the ones that are not. It is important that you have a firm opinion on this so that you can respond to situations with authority. 

Do not assume that just because your child wants to do something or physically can do something that means your child should be allowed to do it. There is more to consider than just your child. Think through the full implications of a freedom. 

Also, try to understand your basic moral principles and policies. Despite your thinking, your child is sure to come up with a myriad of things you never thought about. Understanding why you have the rules you do will help you respond appropriately with the unforeseen events that come up with children.

Do Have a Plan for when Rules are Broken

Think through what the consequences will be when a rule is broken. Try to make the “punishment fit the crime.” Have it be related to what the infraction was..

There will be times when your child surprises you and comes up with new things to try that you never foresaw. I find this more true for my younger children. You think you have seen it all and you stop being as diligent in thinking through what could go wrong and the child just surprises you with a new one.

At these times, you can say something like, “You will need to have a consequence for this. I will think about it and talk with your father about it and we will let you know what the consequence will be.” There is no harm in thinking for a bit before responding. 

Do Clearly Outline Rules, Expectations, and Consequences

Sometimes we think something is obvious. For me, it seems obvious that my child should not ride a mile home from the park alone without telling me first. For Kaitlyn, it seems like it isn’t a big deal. The park is right by the school and she frequently rides her bike home from school, so what is the problem?

These are times to use your judgment. Maybe you will forgive this transgression and explain that what the child did is not okay and stress that it should not be done again. Perhaps you will offer some grace but still apply some sort of consequence to help the child remember in the future. This can be appropriate for children who are smart enough to understand “why” behind rules and who can be expected to judge the action with accuracy, or at the least, know to ask you first. 

Do Re-establish Structure

You might reflect and find that the little problems you see with your child are correlated with the time you started to be lax in your daily structure. Children who are tired, hungry, or who have too much free time tend to find trouble more than those who are well-rested, eat regular meals, and who have some structure in life. You might need to pay better attention to naps and bedtimes to get your child to behave the way she knows how to.

Don’t Laugh Openly

Sometimes the insolence is quite funny and even cute, especially in the young ones. Don’t laugh in front of your child. Children love to get a laugh out of adults and will do anything to get more laughter. Don’t let the child see how amused you are. Save your laughs for when the child is away.

Don’t Brush it Off

It is a big deal for your child to ignore your rules. Do not fool yourself into thinking there is no harm in it. Do not adapt a “boys will be boys” type of mentality.

Don’t Be Afraid to Discipline

It is your job to offer up discipline when your child does something she shouldn’t. It is correct for you to correct your child.

Don’t Think it is Only a Phase

Doing nothing and waiting for a phase to pass is like standing in the middle of a steep hill and waiting for it to taper off. Yes, children go through phases, but it being a phase doesn’t mean you should do nothing about it. Work to get your child through the phase. Teach your child how she should be and give consequences when she chooses incorrectly. Just as you need to hike to get over that steep hill, you will have to work to get your child through the phase. Phases can become habits very easily.

Related Posts

I have several other posts that will help you with this concept. They are worth the read:

    when kids push the limits pinnable image

    Leave a Comment