Children come into the world knowing precious little. They learn almost incidentally by observing the happenings around them and manipulating their surroundings through touch, sound, facial expression and movement. We set physical limits to keep our exploring munchkins from danger. As they grow in size and ability, though, physical limits are inadequate for the sea of behaviors they'll experiment with. It's our job as parents to let our kids know which behaviors are acceptable and which aren't. These limits are essential for safety and household harmony, but they also help children feel secure by showing that you care and that you want to keep them safe. Limits also help your child develop a sense of responsibility for his or her actions.
Limits aren't negatives. They're expectations and behavior guidelines that promote safe, healthy growth. Children raised without limits are often fearful of exploring on their own, or they deliberately misbehave in an effort to find someone who cares enough to draw a line [source: Oliver].
If you've been living without limits, be patient. Sit down with your child and explain in simple terms what you want him or her to do, and why that behavior is important. It may take time -- as well as firmness and perseverance -- for both you and your child to learn to stick to the new boundaries.
Keep limits few, basic and clear. Children can't memorize a book of rules, so focus on behaviors with high importance. Keep in mind your child's level of maturity and his or her ability to meet certain expectations. This will help you set reasonable behavior guidelines. A toddler would have a hard time staying quiet and still through a two-hour movie, but he or she can learn that we handle problems with words, not fists and teeth.
Limits can actually expand your child's range of experience. For example, instead of saying no to a request to cook, you can say yes, but only with an adult to help. That limitation allows your child to experiment and learn important skills under safe conditions -- until the time comes for you to expand those boundaries.