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The Comfort of Limits
Dr. Thomas Phelan, Parent Magic Newsletter, March 1, 2006
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True or False? Self-esteem and creativity both are higher when kids can “do their own thing” without external limits imposed by adult power or authority. Believe it or not, this statement is false. A number of studies have come up with the conclusion—which makes sense when you think about it—that kids feel better about themselves and perform better, creatively and otherwise, when they learn the boundaries for reasonable behavior.

The world itself has all kinds of limits and rules. There are rules for how to treat other people, speed limits, rules for sports, interest payments, taxes and marriage. You may not like all these regulations, but if you don’t recognize them, you will get hurt and wind up more frustrated than you would be if you followed them. Parents are the ones who introduce their children to life’s boundaries.

The Effects are Long Lasting

How parents establish rules and set limits—or fail to set limits—not only has a tremendous effect on the self-esteem of a child, but also affects the relationship between parent and child, the parent’s own self-esteem and the overall atmosphere for everyone around the home. These effects are long lasting.

Limits—properly explained, imposed and enforced—have a dramatic effect on the comfort level of kids. Limits allow affection to unfold naturally and learning to take place. They also produce an atmosphere where other things that foster self-esteem can occur: positive reinforcement, listening, affection and fun.

Ask Dr. Phelan: Mealtime

Question: I have bought all your books and videos. They are worth millions! However, there is one area that I am confronting difficulty with my 4 year old granddaughter i.e. she creates hell at dinner and lunch. Your suggestions would be appreciated.

Answer: Mealtime should be a pleasant experience, but with preschoolers it often is the opposite. Here are some suggestions: 1) do not allow the child to eat in between meals, 2) give her very small portions 3) set a kitchen timer for about 10 minutes. If she eats before the 10 minutes are up, praise her for doing so. If she does not, she may get down from the table, but she may have nothing to eat before the next meal. While you are sitting there with her, you are NOT allowed to prompt her to eat in any way. The timer will do that for you
1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12

New 3RD Edition by Dr. Thomas Phelan

This best-selling program provides three simple steps to raising well-behaved, happy, competent youngsters. Available in book, CD, video and DVD formats. To learn more visit:


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