Responsive Parenting: Balancing Freedom and Limits

“It’s so unfair! All my friends have computers in their rooms.” “I won’t take a bath for the rest of my life!” “I know I said I wouldn’t take the car without asking, but I was really late for school.” “How can you say you don’t like my friends? You don’t even know them!”

Where do you draw the line with kids? When can you be flexible? All children, teens, and their parents deal with issues like these at some point in their relationship (or more realistically, throughout their relationship). The way parents choose to deal with the issues has an important impact on how healthy and competent their children grow up to be. Most, if not all, young people test the limits of acceptable behavior. They want—and need—more freedom as they mature.

At the same time, young people also need the experience and wisdom of adults who can help guide them through childhood and adolescence. One key to raising mature, competent young adults lies in balancing the need to set limits with the necessity of encouraging youth to make their own responsible decisions. Limits and consequences play a critical role in helping young people learn to make wise, caring, and healthy decisions.

Here are strategies you can use…

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Strive to be a “responsive parent.” Responsive parents love and support their children and also realize that there are bound to be parent/child conflicts. One goal of responsive parenting is to teach children to be responsible for their own behavior and to be considerate of others. Another goal is to respond to your child consistently across a variety of situations, and to treat all your children with consistent fairness.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Look for win-win situations, such as using a positive behavior chart to reinforce your young child’s appropriate behaviors.
    • When your child’s behavior is out-of-bounds, speak to her or him as you would want to be spoken to if someone were reprimanding you.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Establish and enforce clear, reasonable, and fair limits for all, allowing your children to be part of the decision-making process.
    • Give your children room to experiment and try new things, knowing that you’ll need to draw the line when your child’s physical and emotional safety are at risk.
    • When your child has an outburst, take a deep breath and calmly explain that when he or she is ready to talk, you are ready to listen. If you react negatively, your child will see that as a way to get attention.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Balance parental control with your teen’s need for independence. Teens need guidance, but they also need time (and space) to explore their own feelings, ideas, and personalities.
    • Be firm and fair, taking care not to overreact when rules are broken. Keep in mind that appropriate, consistent consequences will teach your teen to accept responsibility for her or his actions, while harsh punishment will most likely cause resentment.
    • If you tell your child there will be a specific consequence for a certain behavior, be prepared to follow through. Empty threats will teach your child that you “don’t really mean it” when you set boundaries.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Accept adolescents as individuals, each possessing a unique set of qualities (don’t stereotype teens or expect them to act in one certain way).
    • Work together to establish guidelines for acceptable behavior and set consequences for situations when the guidelines aren’t followed.
  • Be creative to find time to talk with your teenager about his or her expectations, frustrations, responsibilities, and successes. Let your teen know you want to hear his or her ideas and opinions.

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