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Setting Limits, Part 2- How to Avoid Knee Jerk Reactions



How to Avoid "Knee Jerk" Reactions

"I want a cookie," demands Tyler.

"You know you can't have a cookie before dinner," mom chastises.

"I don't like you. YOU ARE NOT MY FRIEND," screams Tyler.

"You can't talk to me like that. Do you want to go to time out?" threatens mom.

Welcome to the second part of a series in Setting Limits These steps work well for any relationship however, we will be concentrating on the toddler years. To read Part I or review it, click here.

When your toddler throws a fit, bites, hits, kicks or yells “I don’t like you!”, it is hard not take it personally. You may be tempted to want to MAKE it stop as soon as possible! It is difficult to not have a “knee jerk” reaction.

Your brain is wired to react quickly when under duress. It is not that you are a bad parent.

You are experiencing a difficult moment.

Reacting with the following reaction statements will only leave you and your child feeling upset and disconnected::

  • “You are making me mad" is a blaming statement.

  • “You are acting like a spoiled brat" is a shaming statement.

  • “Go to your room if you can’t behave" is punishment.

  • “I’m going to leave you" is using fear to achieve what you want.

In order not to be reactive, it is helpful to reframe why your child is acting the way they are.

When you are curious and compassionate, instead of viewing them as brats or disrespectful,

 it frees you up to find a peaceful solution.

Understanding their behavior helps us not to take things personally and view your child differently.


The more frequently you respond calmly and compassionately,

the more you rewire your brain to respond this way. And you are helping to wire your child's brain to self-regulate.

Why do kids test limits?

It can be an attempt to tell you that they can’t function.

Your toddler can't say, "I am so frustrated. I need a hug!" It is unlikely that your child has the ability to verbalize their needs directly yet. They may be tired, hungry or frustrated. Ask yourself, "What do they need at the moment?"

They may be testing your leadership. 

They are looking for where the power lies. Toddlers are wanting to know the answer to, “What will you do if I do such-and-such?” Try to be consistent and demonstrate that you are unthreatened and not shocked by their behavior.

The most effect leaders lead with confidence, humor and calm.

Don’t worry if you don’t get this right. Your kids will give you ample opportunities to practice!

Children tend to test you more in public.

This is because they are trying to determine if your consistency extends beyond the home. They want to know how far they can take it in an external environment.

Make sure your response is the same whether you're at home or out and about. This can be difficult when you feel you have eyes staring at you and you are embarrassed.

They may have big feelings and stress they need to release. During these times, hold your limit while demonstrating an “all feelings are allowed” attitude. "I know you are angry you can't have a cookie right now. It's ok to be angry. You can have a cookie after dinner."

Pushing your limits can be the quickest and easiest way to get your attention.

Negative attention is better than none. Make sure you are giving your child enough attention when they aren’t testing. Reassure your child with lots of hugs, kisses and “I love you” statements.

The messages of love that matter most are heard through our respectful leadership when we are patient, accepting, empathetic and

when we take the time to really know our child.

In order to embody setting healthy and effective limits, you will need to practice…not just read or hear about the concept. In this 4 part series, we will give an assignment that is short and easy to practice support you in your process.

Parenting Practice: Reflect at the end of your day on one situation where your child was pushing your limits. Ask yourself, “What might have been really going on with them? What would I do differently if this happens again tomorrow?”

For a deeper dive into setting limits, check out our course here.

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 This Topic REALLY Resonated With Me...Now What?

Enroll in our transformative online "Setting Limits and Making them Stick!" course.

In this course, you will learn:

  • How to get clear about your limit(s).

  • 4 simple steps to set limits.

  • Helpful tips on how to effectively follow through without nagging, threatening, or bribing.

  • How to effectively respond when they use emotional blackmail. 

  • 9 pitfalls to avoid when setting limits.

We know that most parents are pressed for time so the course is broken into short bite size pieces (10 -15 minutes).

Only $49


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Setting Limits and Making Them Stick


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