4 Tips for Surviving Limit Testers

girl on brick2
Image via Katie Hurley

Children are naturally curious beings, and sometimes, things like jumping off the top bunk or riding a scooter off a wall seem like a really good idea at the time.

Few things are more frustrating for tired parents than a child who tests every single limit. At the end of a long day, the last thing you want is a power struggle over bedtime, TV shows, or anything else.

While some kids are fairly easy going and tend to simply follow the rules without much worry, others can really push your buttons.

And therein lies the problem.

Limit testing is actually a very normal part of child development. Kids try to figure out how far they can bend and how much control they really have. It's up to you to remain calm and consistent during these trying times. Only then will your child stop pushing.

Here are 4 tips for surviving limit testers.

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Image via iStock

Stop the cycle of negativity

When kids push the limits, parents tend to lose their cool. It's only natural. After all, how many times can you possibly provide the same redirect without losing your patience?

Unfortunately, limit testers and their parents tend to get into a cycle of negativity that can be difficult to break: child tests limits; parent yells or makes hurtful facial expression; child digs in heels even harder; parent starts to lose control.

Sound familiar?

It's difficult to stay calm when patience is running thin, but it's also essential. The cycle of negativity that can result in these situations can harm the relationship and damage the child's self-esteem. Your children aren't actually trying to upset you, but negative begets negative, and these situations can become very inflamed.

Stay calm. Take deep breaths. Say that you need a minute or a breath of fresh air and collect your thoughts. Keep your facial expression neutral and your voice tone calm while you restate the limit in a calming voice as many times as it takes.

Image via Flickr/ Fort Worth Squatch

Set clear expectations

When parents set clear expectations and stick to them, children understand the rules. It takes the guesswork out of the day.

Posting those basic expectations somewhere in the house also helps. Visuals are interesting and can be good reminders for children. Bonus points if you let your kids create the posters!

{ MORE: Pregnancy Is Opening One Female CEO's Eyes to How Hard Parenting Can Be }

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Don't get me wrong — they will still test your limits at times. But if the expectations are clear and the visuals are present, it makes it easier to remain calm and positive in the face of frustrating moments.

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Image via iStock

Be proactive and offer choices

Kids don't have a lot of control over their lives. As much as we attempt to push them toward independence, it can be a frustrating goal when they don't get to make many choices.

It's a good idea to take a proactive approach when dealing with a tiny limit tester. Make a list of the situations and scenarios that trigger limit-testing behavior. After you've got that list put together, go ahead and start brainstorming solutions.

Once you know what typically triggers the behavioral issues, you can work on providing reasonable choices for your child so that he can gain some control over his life. A little bit of control in the form of making decisions can go a long way toward reducing negative behaviors.

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Image via Flickr/ donnierayjones

Show some empathy

As much as this behavior is frustrating for you, it's also frustrating for your child. Children are naturally curious beings, and sometimes, things like jumping off the top bunk or riding a scooter off a wall seem like a really good idea at the time.

Many children are their own worst critics and begin reprimanding themselves before you even see the result of their choices.

Empathize with your kids. Share a story about a time when you were young and really wanted to push a limit. Have an honest discussion about the reasons for your rules and expectations, and ask your child to come up with some good family rules.

{ MORE: 5 Tips For Working From Home With Baby }

Kids need to feel heard. Listen when they share their feelings and be there for them. Unconditional love wins every time.

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What do you think?

4 Tips for Surviving Limit Testers

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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4 comments

  1. JoeDeon says:

    Well My Son he takes everything to the limit and its kind of getting stressful. He will throw his self onto the floor like he throws bad temper tantrums he will scream, roll till he can hit something. So what can I do to break him from that I try not yelling at him but its hard keeping it together.

    • Jennifer says:

      When my four year old has a tantrum like that, I flop myself on the ground and start screaming and flailing around and my son instantly stops and looks at me like I’m completely crazy. I tell him that is how he looks. The tantrums have gotten fewer and farther between…at least the bad ones.

  2. sayhola says:

    I don’t feel like we enter a negative cycle… he tests, and I typically ignore the test if it didn’t breach the expectation. For example “kick the ball again, time out.” *he touches ball with foot* It wasn’t a kick, I ignore. A kick gets immediate time out. Also, “Keep your facial expression neutral and your voice tone calm while you restate the limit in a calming voice as many times as it takes” – I learned a saying from a behavior therapist: “I say, you do, good things happen.” From this, I also tend to give an instruction ONCE and if it’s not followed, time out. Simple. He’s a very compliant kid, so we actually don’t need to use time out all that often. He’s learned! And he *just* turned 3. This ‘testing’ has been going on a long time….

  3. Megan Klay says:

    Testing their boundaries!

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