I have found the phrase, “I can’t let you do that” to be so helpful.
Of course, physically stepping in to be close, and my body language, is just as important, perhaps even more so, but it’s helpful for me to have a phrase that I can say that indicates I’m not taking sides, not assigning blame, but I am setting a limit to stop the behaviour.
It also lets them know that I will keep things safe, and not let them hurt each other or me, and that it is my job to do that.
When my two children were playing with their train set together one day, I could hear in their voices that the tension between them was building. I was listening from afar, but upon hearing this, remembered that it is best to come in early to set a limit, so I stopped what I was doing and went and sat on the floor with them and just watched, listening.
Avoid Assigning Blame When You Set Limits
They noticed me and things seemed to calm down a little until they both wanted a particular train carriage. Very quickly the situation changed!
My son snatched it away from my daughter who immediately raised her hand to hit him. Being right there, I was able to move in quickly and grab her hand, saying, “I can’t let you do that. I can’t let you hit.”
She struggled a bit, and my son started kicking her, so I put myself in between them and let my son know I couldn’t let him kick his sister.
Stop the Aggression, Voice the Limit
I had brought the limit, first physically stopping the aggression, then verbally, but without taking sides or reprimanding. Both of my children then started crying, and there was some yelling about who had it first, and I was able to listen as their upset feelings came out. I didn’t need to physically restrain them for very long, as they stopped wanting to hurt each other very quickly. But they did want to be close to me and I kept hugging them both as they cried. I didn’t need to say much, and it seemed the train carriage they had started arguing about was forgotten.
After a few minutes my son decided he had finished playing with the trains and came to help me in the kitchen. My daughter continued to play with the train set happily on her own.
This way of setting limits allowed us all to feel connected again quickly, and no one was made to feel guilty, which would probably have only prolonged the upset.
I have also noticed that when my son, who is four, is in a situation with his two year old sister where he needs to stop her from doing something to him, if he is in a good space he will often take her hand and gently say, “I can’t let you do that!” And she responds very well to this, often offering a hug instead of the hit or snatch she was about to deliver! It makes me realise how powerful our modelling is to our children, and how much they learn just by observing our actions.
Lyra L'Estrange, QLD, Australia.
Read more about why crying is ok when you set limits – even when you don't yell!
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