Setting effective limits without waging war |

Setting effective limits without waging war

Jinnae Anderson
Guest Columnist

“Get back here! GET BACK HERE! NOW! STOP!”

“You take one more move, Mister! Don’t you dare!”

Do you have your own version of threats, warnings, and ways to say no to your children — like Marlin, above, as he yells at his son? The movie “Finding Nemo” beautifully depicts how helpless Marlin feels as he watches Nemo swimming into the dangerous open ocean.

No matter what he says, Nemo is going to swim out: Marlin simply cannot enforce all those threats and warnings.

As parents, we’ve probably all felt that sense of helplessness to some extent. But if Marlin had learned some simple love and logic strategies, he may never have gotten into this desperate situation. Let’s have a look at how we could help Marlin out.

When we threaten, say no often or lecture, even young kids can learn to regard our voices as simple background noise — like the “WAAHHHH WAAHHHH” in the Peanuts cartoons.

Every time our children don’t comply with what we ask (or threaten) and we find ourselves at a loss for what to do, our kids learn that their parents’ words are meaningless and powerless.

The habit of disregarding their parents’ words is difficult enough when our kids are young, but can you imagine what it might mean when they’re in their rebellious teenage years? Yikes!

Having your child hear you out

Love and logic has a simple, straightforward approach to this dilemma. It’s based on these important premises:

Threats, lectures and warnings don’t work. Neither does trying to tell a strong-willed person what to do. Instead, simply describe what you’re willing to do or allow.

We call these Enforceable Statements. They often start out with words like, “You may … ”, “I allow … ”, or “Feel free to … ”

They are a powerful way of setting limits without waging war. They are a beautiful and simple way for a parent to be in charge without creating a suppressed child.

Examples for parents of younger kids might include:

I take kids who have slept well to the playground.

You may keep the toys that are on your shelf.

I’ll be happy to read to you as long as your fingers stay out of your nose.

And for parents of pre-teens/teens:

You are welcome to get online as long as I’m around to supervise.

I allow kids to attend parties when there is an adult there who I trust. I’m happy to speak with you when your voice sounds calm.

It’s both how you say it and what you say

What makes Enforceable Statements so powerful is that we are not telling our kids what to do! It is hard for our kids to wage an all-out war with us when we’re simply stating what we will do or allow.

In our house, we have a generic Enforceable Statement that works really well: Kids who do what’s expected get extra things. Let’s say that my son Kai, who is 13, wants to go to a friend’s house — or get online — or stay up late. Has he done what’s expected, which on any particular day might include chores, homework and speaking in a pleasant tone? If he has, hooray!

We celebrate with him that he gets to do the extra thing. If he hasn’t done what’s expected, we express sorrow in our tone and empathy that it didn’t work out this time.

This brings us to an important point: The delivery. Enforceable Statements are not said sarcastically, meanly, or as royal edicts. They are meant to be delivered in a calm, friendly, even firm, tone.

What if that’s not the case? What if you are so angry with your kid that you can’t think straight? How about this Enforceable Statement: I am so mad right now that I might say things I’ll regret. We’ll talk abut this later.

Beyond the gift of providing your kid time to reflect (and possibly to worry) about what they said or did, this statement also models a great way to deal with anger. When it comes to our kids, much more is caught by example then taught by our words.

As Marlin learned on that fateful day, threats and manipulation can make our children bristle with indignation, often resulting in an “I’ll show you!” attitude.

Enforceable Statements, on the other hand, allow us to take good care of ourselves by setting effective limits without raised voices or rebellious responses.

Strategies like Enforceable Statements help to build respectful, healthy relationships. Good relationships with our kids are the foundation of Love and Logic: They make parenting more fun and rewarding, developing closeness in good times and resilience in tougher ones.

Jinnae Anderson is an Independent Trainer for Parenting the Love and Logic Way and 9 Essential Steps for the Love and Logic Classroom. Her next parenting series begins Feb. 1. For more information, visit

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