In this article we are going to further look into one of the key topic in parenting: limit setting.

In the previous articles we discussed why clear limit setting is critical to early development (part 1) and how to do it in an effective way (part 2)

Today we are going to point out 5 typical mistakes, which we sometimes make in our efforts to raise children properly or when we feel angry or powerless over their misbehaviour.

1. Corporal punishment

Experts are unanimous in their opinion about disciplinary practices such as ear pulling, slapping and spanking - they not only do not help, but seriously harm children.

Children who have been physically punished as children are more likely to become aggressive or overly timid and insecure, to have lower intellectual abilities, and to suffer from mental health problems. Even light spanking changes how a child's brain responds to threat in a manner similar to severe forms of violence and abuse.

In the long run, corporal punishment leads to serious problems in behavior and communication, which in turn poses a risk to the child's success in school and in life.

Children use their parents’ reactions as a guide to the world. Therefore, it is very important to set a good example in how to deal with negative emotions, by controlling ourselves and not losing our temper when the child misbehaves or acts defiantly.

Ако не успеем и ударим детето –  или го заплашим с подобно действие – в съзнанието му остават токсични послания като „Нормално е да причиняваш болка на по-слабите, за да получиш своето.“ или „Когато съм ядосан е нормално да ударя някого“. Дори детето да поправи поведението си, то това е продиктувано от страх, а не от истинско осъзнаване на това какво е добро и лошо. Страда и връзката между дете и родител, която е най-пълноценна и градивна, когато се базира на обич и подкрепа.

2. Yelling

There is probably not a single parent who has never lost patience with their child and raised their voice. Parenting is full of difficult moments, when children simply refuse to cooperate, and irritated parents release their anger and frustration by yelling at them. Perhaps some people justify yelling, saying it's not hitting after all, plus it presumably makes children listen and respect authority more.

This belief, however, is quite wrong. In fact, uncontrollable yelling can be just as harmful от физическото насилие. Макар и да не удряме буквално детето, то усеща гнева в тона ни като заплаха и тялото му реагира инстинктивно, сякаш поема удар. В такива моменти мозъкът „замръзва“ и дори да мислим, че с крещене ще ни чуят по-добре и ще ни вземат на сериозно, всъщност се получава точно обратното – детето се плаши, спира да мисли трезво и е неспособно да възприеме това, което му казваме.

Yelling makes children more insecure, lowers their self-esteem, and damages their self-respect. Besides, it doesn’t create more respect for the parents, quite the opposite. It’s likely that the parent-child relationship will deteriorate - the child will become more distant from the parent, defiant and uncommunicative. In the long run, yelling can lead to increased anxiety and aggression. Following the parent’s example, the child is more likely to yell at others when irritated or angry.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that parents should keep a calm voice at all times. This is even undesirable, given that children need to see the sincere emotions of their parents and how they deal with them in a healthy way. The key is in the ability to manage and communicate one's own irritation and anger.

3. Shaming

A common parenting approach is to make children feel ashamed of their unacceptable behaviour. Offensive labels, put-downs and remarks like “You naughty child!“, “You cry-baby!” or “I just can’t deal with you anymore.” are used by parents who believe they are just helping their children distinguish between good and bad behaviour and correct themselves.

But what is the cost of children’s obedience in such cases? Too high, say child psychology experts Robin Grille and Beth Macgregor. Humiliating remarks hurt children's self-esteem for years to come. They hinder successful development, because children are continuously deterred by the fear of not being good enough.

The negative labels children hear about themselves - "bad", "stupid", "lazy", "spoiled", etc. - become the way they perceive themselves. "If mom and dad think I'm stupid and bad, then I really am. Why should I try, when I am like that and that’s all I am capable of…” This kind of thinking can have detrimental effect on school performance and career at a later stage.

Criticising a child in front of other people does additional harm. Demeaning remarks said out in public can be very humiliating and convey the message the child is not worthy of our love. It is crucial to follow the principle that children should be praised in public and scolded in private..

4. Punishment and restrictions

Being punished is a typical childhood experience. Many parents rely on punishment as their primary means of disciplining, which usually comes down to taking away privileges. Children are left without TV, candy or toys for a certain period of time, while in the meantime the parents expect them to feel remorse for their wrongdoings and to not repeat them ever again.

In practice, punishment rarely has such an effect. Instead of thinking over their own behaviour, children rather focus on what’s been taken away from them. Punishment provokes in them anger, resentment, defiance, and desire to seek revenge. Children start making plans on how to violate the restrictions without getting caught. Conflict is more likely to escalate rather than be resolved and the learning process is impeded.

Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber, two of the world's most popular authors of parenting books, summarize the issue with punishment in the following way: arbitrary punishment is a distraction. For example, if we ban our child from using her tablet because she has punched her sibling, the child’s attention shifts from why hitting is bad to when will I get my tablet back. Mazlish and Faber advise parents to prioritise the natural consequences, which children would experience from their actions, e.g. hitting hurts and if you hit, people will not want to play with you.

5. Rewards and bribes

Rewards are often used as an incentive for a child to behave well. They are planned in advance, unlike "bribes", which are given only after the child starts acting out. A classic example is "Stop crying and I’ll give you a toy or candy."

Bribes are definitely not a good idea because they don’t respond to child’s actual needs or contribute to skill development. The only thing a child learns from bribing is that there is a way to cross boundaries and gain something in return. Rewarding, on the other hand, can have a positive effect on behaviour, but it should be used with caution because research shows that there are some pitfalls.

If we buy toys or sweets as an incentive too often, the child's internal motivation may decrease. This means that the child learns to behave well for the sake of the reward, and not because they feel inner satisfaction from their accomplishment or realise its importance. The effects of rewarding decrease over time, and the child needs different or greater rewards to stay motivated.

Instead of a material reward, give the child sincere praise or an enthusiastic "High-five!". These can also be very motivating for children. As we already saw in the case of punishment, it’s best to let the child learn from the natural positive consequences of good behaviour. Tidying up, for example, means that the toys will be easier to find. Or in the case of oral hygiene, brushing teeth regularly is the only way to make them “dazzling white”, “sparkling clean” and “strong like a lion”.


"How to Talk so Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Published in 2012.

"This publication was created with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The entire responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the Health and Social Development Foundation and under no circumstances can it be assumed that this publication reflects the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Operator of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria."