In life, people use a lot of different words to describe the same thing. Discipline and limit-setting, for example, are two words parents like to use interchangeably. The question is – do they mean the same? The short answer – not really. As a parent, it is certainly in your best interest to know the difference between the two. This way, you can learn which one is right for your child.
What is Limit-Setting, Anyway?
The purpose of limit-setting is to provide a child with structure. Limit-setting is ideal when a child is not capable and/or not old enough to be responsible. Creating structure helps set a boundary for a child who may still be learning right from wrong. With discipline, there is some level of interactivity and understanding involved. A child must have a certain level of self-control in order for discipline to be effective. Typically, a combination of the age of a child and the developmental stage the child is at will be used to determine whether limit-setting or discipline is the best course of action.
Children Under the Age of Three
When a child is under the age of three, he/she may or may not have a clear grasp of right from wrong. This is also an age group during which children are not expected to be responsible for all of their actions. This is why children in this age group need limits and structure. It is, however, important to keep in mind it is perfectly natural for a child in this group to challenge limits and push restrictions. This is how a child learns and explores what is right, what is wrong, and how to be responsible.
When is Discipline Acceptable?
The purpose of discipline is to guide or teach a child. In order for discipline to be effective, two things must be true:
How Do You Know When Your Children Is Ready?
It is important to keep in mind that every child is unique and develops at his/her own pace. With this in mind, how do you decide when a child is ready to transition from limit-setting to discipline? You will know your child is ready when you find yourself repeating commands less. For example, if you find yourself telling your child to get down from somewhere or to stop touching something on repeat all day, your child may not be ready for discipline. If you, however, find your child listening and complying to commands without the need to repeat them – your child may be ready for the transition.
As a parent, only you can decide when your child is ready to transition from limit-setting to discipline. Hopefully, understanding the differences between the two will help you decide when your child is ready. Just remember to be patient. If you aren't sure if your child is ready, just wait a little longer. You want to feel confident and comfortable with the transition. More importantly, if you think you transitioned too soon – there is nothing wrong with going back to setting limits and trying again later.