Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Testing Limits

Lately my little Toddler has been testing limits with me big time.  Every time she does it, I am reminded by the lesson my old grad school professors taught me:

"Children will test more limits (aka 'act out') with their parents more than with anyone else"


Because they feel safest with their parents to test limits.

I remember back during my days as a babysitter, the parents would come home from their nice evening out and hear how wonderful their children behaved and wonder how on earth their holy terrors did not fight with each other or have a major meltdown.  They would complain to me all the time how perfect their little ones were with me or their grandparents, but when they were with them, they were constantly arguing, bickering and throwing tantrums left and right.

I was always explaining that kids act out more around their parents because they felt safer to do so, and they would get this look on their faces like, "oh, well, that's nice but it still makes it hard to deal with EVERY day."

My child will have her mini meltdowns with me but when I leave her with family, they tell me she was just perfect. Hmm.  Sounds familiar.  And I am crossing my fingers that when my child starts smiling and tries to bite me when she doesn't get what she wants, that she only does that with me and doesn't attempt it at her Mother's Day Out.  So far, no reports of biting, so it makes me think she is seriously testing the limits with me.

And to top it all off, tonight during my counseling group session with my 4-7 year olds, they were testing limits with me all over the place. I was having to set some 'final limits' too which I never have to do.

Things like, "if you choose to paint on the floor again, then you choose to put the paints up for the rest of the day."  And the little girl looks at me, smiles and starts painting on the floor as she watches me, just to see what I would do. Nice, huh? I set the final limit and I had to take the paints away from her.

Let's just say she was not happy, but I went home realizing that the playroom is normally a safe place for these kids to play.  Play therapists set very little rules in the playrooms, which allows children to freely express themselves as much as possible.  Just a few rules to protect them from getting hurt or hurting the toys like throwing them against the wall, etc.

So I realized that after a few weeks of the children being shy as the new ones in group, they are now starting to feel safe and test the limits.  It's hard constantly setting the limits, but I know I am teaching them appropriate boundaries and most importantly. I am following through and being consistent with them, which shows that a big grown-up adult cares!

What to do with your children at home?  Just keep setting limits as you have, follow through, be consistent and be grateful that they feel safe enough to test you.  After all, that is how children learn.  They have to learn right and wrong from us and what better teachers than their parents :)



  1. Great post! I can totally relate ... those days when both my own kids AND my clients are testing me are the hardest! I love the parallel you made between kids (hopefully) feeling safest with their parents and the playroom being a safe place.

  2. It is tough to have kids testing you all day long, work and at home! I hear it from parents all the time that their kids are angels at school or preschool but act up a lot at home. I just have to remember that it's a good thing for kids to test limits with me- it means I am doing something right and they trust me :)