15 Jan

Set limits for your children (that stick!) in 3 simple steps

I keep a notebook about each of my children in which I record major events, questions, and notes from parent-teacher conferences and other meetings.

I happened to be thumbing through my daughter’s notebook while at a doctor visit last month, and a folded piece of paper fell out.

On it, I’d  described a challenging parenting situation that I wanted help with. At the time (10 years ago), I was taking a parenting class with my husband because we were both exasperated by our daughter’s behavior after her baby sister was born.

Here’s the scenario . . . perhaps you’ve experienced something similar?

It’s bath time, and my 4YO daughter is happily splashing around, diving underwater with her swim goggles on.

Mom:  Time to get out of the tub.  You can have 5 more minutes.

(5 minutes pass)

Mom:  OK, time to get out.

Child:  Oh, please, just a few more dives?

Mom:  OK, 2 more dives.

Child:  No, 4 more.

Mom:  3 more.  3 is a few.

Child:  No, a few means 4!  How about 3 and a half?

Mom:  I’m not willing to do 3 and a half.  It’s time to get out.

(Child does 3 dives)

Mom:  OK now, time to get out.

Child:  Oh please, please just one more dive??  (She is panicky, and about to cry)

Mom:  OK, if we do one more dive, what are you going to do?

Child:  Get out.

Mom:  OK.  1 more dive . . . GO!

(Child does 5 – 6 mini-dives)

Mom:  Get out NOW!  (Diving continues)  If you can’t live up to your promise, I’ll have to take privileges away!

(Child begins to get out, but veeeeerrrry slowly, and very upset)

Oh, when I read this scenario I ache and laugh all at once. At the time, I was absolutely perplexed about how to get this kid out of the tub without resorting to threats.  In my view, there was no alternative . . . she drove me to it! I was the victim.  Hah!

I wish I’d known then about a little 3-step tool I created several years later.  I now teach it all the time in parenting classes.  It’s called, “ELC™” and it comes in very handy when children are pushing pre-established limits.

When a limit is being challenged, try a little “ELC™!”  

ELC™ stands for Empathy, Limit, Choice or Curiosity Question. This is a play on the acronym, “TLC” which stands for Tender Loving Care.

In the bathtub situation above, ELC™ might have sounded like this:

Empathy:  “You’re having so much fun splashing around and diving in the tub!  Wouldn’t it be awesome if the tub were as big as a swimming pool?”

Limit:  “AND (not but), you’ve had 3 dives, so it’s time to get out . . . “

Choice or Curiosity Question:  “How will you get out . . . would you like to blast off like a rocket?  Or leap out like a leapfrog?  What do you pick?”

Notice that the choice is about HOW not WHETHER to hold the limit, a very important distinction.  

You may be thinking, “Nice try, Marcilie, there’s no way that will work for my child.”

I hear you. It’s true that it might not work, because no tool works every time for every child in every situation.  However, I invite you to try it out, and see what happens.

Why does ELC™ work?

It works because you’ve started with empathy. Empathy puts you and your child on the same team.  With real empathy, your child feels validated and understood and is more able to hear and cooperate with what comes next.

It works because the limit is clear and concise. Parents get into trouble when they give long explanations about why the limit is fair.  Less is more.  A clearly stated, succinct limit leaves less room for negotiation.

It works because the child experiences some power in deciding how (not whether) they will hold the limit. By providing a choice or asking a curiosity question (usually beginning with, “What” or “How,”) you give your child some autonomy, or control over the situation.  Autonomy is a major driver of intrinsic motivation. (Daniel Pink, Drive)

Tips to make ELC™ work even better:

  • Don’t have too many limits, and don’t have too few.  Some children have so many limits that they (and even their parents) can’t possibly hold them all.  Other children have no limits at all and go wild.  Some but not too many limits allow children both freedom and safety.  I find that I can reasonably enforce 4-6 limits in a day before I feel worn out and naggy. Your number may be different. (Toddlers will need more, deep breath!)

  • Don’t fake your empathy! Really get into your child’s world so you can see things from their perspective. To them, they worked long and hard to get to level 10 of their computer game! It IS exciting and fun to splash around the tub in swim goggles!  It IS hard to leave Mommy in the morning to go to school. Let them sense that you really get it.

  • Don’t negate your empathy with a BUT. When you say, “I can see you’re really having a great time with your friends BUT we have to go,” you’re  negating everything that came before the BUT.  Replace your BUT with an AND. Both can be true:  you ARE having a great time AND it’s time to go.

  • Do agree on limits in advance. Whenever possible, discuss the limit during a calm time when everyone is levelheaded. When children know what to expect, they’re more likely to remain calm and receptive when the limit is held.

  • As children get older, even as early as 5-8 years old, do involve them in the process of setting the limits. Getting their input will increase their buy-in and follow-through because it allows them some input and control. You might be surprised at how reasonable children can be when their input is sought.

  • Do give advance notice that the limit is imminent. E.g., “five more minutes,” or “10 more dives.”  Advance notice gives the child some time to finish what they were doing, let go of their own agenda, and shift over to yours.

  • Do allow your child to be upset when the limit is held. Often we cave in because we don’t want to deal with a tantrum or argument.  But if you have established limits in advance, involved your children in the process of setting them, given them advance notice that the limit is imminent, and truly empathized with their feelings, then you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to kindly and firmly hold the limit and tolerate the upset that may ensue. It’s OK!  You’ve been respectful all along and your child will be OK and move on eventually.

Are you willing to give it a go? If you are, I’d love to hear about your results. Please leave your comments below.

Click here to get a 1-page handout on Setting and Holding Limits with ELC™ that includes more examples of ELC™ in action.

Note:  ELC™ is an acronym created and trademarked by Marcilie Smith Boyle’s Working Parenting.  It is a play on the term, “TLC” which stands for Tender Loving Care.

ELC™ is one of many tools and tips you’ll get at the upcoming Virtual Parenting with Positive Discipline class:  Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids.  Starts March 1!  Get more info here.  

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12 Dec

3 Cures for Overwhelm in December and Beyond

It’s that time of year! So let me get right to the point to minimize the odds of making it worse . . .

3 cures for overwhelm, and not just for now, but throughout the year.

Challenge: pick one idea from this list to try out for the rest of the month. Unless that feels overwhelming. In which case, just drop it ( ;

ONE:   Get your To Do’s out of your head and onto paper (either actual or electronic) If you already do this, skip to #2.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done notes that it takes a lot of energy to hold your To Do’s in your head. You not only worry about how and when you will do them, but you also worry about not forgetting that you have to do them. Getting them out of your head and into a trusted tool or system reduces overwhelm and frees up headspace that you can then direct toward creative and productive action.

Two tools that serve well for this purpose are:

  • A Master Project List (per David Allen)
  • A Daily/Weekly To Do List + Calendar (per Christine Carter, and me)

The Master Project list is a place to write down all the projects – both professional and personal — you have going on now or want to make happen in the future. A project is any activity that requires more than one action to get done.

(“Call the plumber,” is not a project because it is just one action, assuming you already have a plumber and their phone number handy. “Fix dishwasher” would be a project if you need to first find a plumber, or will do it yourself – more than one action must happen for it to get done.)

Whenever you think of projects coming up, you capture them in your Master Project List. Here is an example of some of the projects on my list, in two of my major categories:

Class Offerings

  • Marketing plan for Spring classes
  • Outline and handout for Feb parenting class
  • Habitot Children’s Museum speaking event
  • New posters for parenting class

Family and Friends

  • Xmas gifts
  • Kids TimeFrames pictures
  • Birthday party for Mer

I like Trello.com for my project list. Other client favorites are Wunderlist, OmniPro, or a spreadsheet or Word document.

The daily or weekly To Do list is simpler and focused on actions you will take that day or week.  Every day, take a few minutes to write your short-term To Do’s onto a list or add them directly into your calendar, allocating enough time for that activity.

I prefer the physical act of writing things down so here’s what my list looks like today. to-do-list I’ve also blocked time in my calendar for two of the activities that will take more time.

This process takes about 5 minutes of thinking and dramatically reduces that feeling of overwhelm. Even if you discover that it’s not possible to do everything on your list, you now know it and can make conscious choices about what to drop, delegate, defer, or dumb-down.


TWO:   Do Less by implementing the 4 D’s: Drop, Delegate, Defer, or Dumb-It-Down

Part of the reason we feel overwhelm is because we really do have too much on our plates. So please, just take some off.

Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot, recommends you start by highlighting items on your (now created) to do list or project list that you dread doing. Then decide what you can defer – it doesn’t really have to happen this week, this month, or even this year. Maybe your daughter can take that art class next trimester, when soccer is over.

What can you delegate? As for me, making daily dinner was a source of dread. So, I delegated it. Most nights I pay someone else to cook for me. Best money I ever spent (and not as much as you might think!) If you are like most parents, there are probably many tasks your children could be doing (laundry, making lunch, wrapping gifts, addressing holiday cards, etc.)

Now, what can you just drop? I’m looking at my project list now and noticing items I’ve had on there for years. Just deleted two items. Wow, that felt good! I also decided (for now anyway), that I’m not doing holiday cards. I bet most people won’t even notice.

This last one is for you if you tend toward perfectionism. Dumb-It-Down simply means do it less well. Not everything on your list needs to be done well. Some things are worth doing good enough. What are those things?

I invite you to consciously decide what you will get a C on. Or even C minus. I dare you. Today it’s the gluten-free dessert I’m to bring to a dinner party. It will also be labor-free because I just bought it. Now I have time to write this blog!

THREE:   Block time in your calendar every week to tackle your To Do list

Crossing things off your list works wonders in relieving overwhelm! Obviously. However, it’s amazing how often we fail to allocate appropriate time for the To Do’s.

So to start, please pull out your calendar and block off chunks of time to just get things done. Think of this time as “committed” time – the same way you would think about a meeting with another person.

One of my clients has blocked off what she calls, “Focus Time” every Monday and Wednesday from 9 – 12. I’ve blocked off my entire Monday and most of Friday for “Planning and Preparation” – no meetings except for a weekly check-in with my assistant and the occasional 30-minute coaching discovery session.

You could also block off time in your calendar for specific To Do’s. If one of your “To Do’s” is to “plan menu for holiday dinner,” block off a specific day and time for this activity.

If the task you’ve blocked time for still feels overwhelming, David Allen recommends you break the task down into the smallest next action required to make progress — not to complete it — but to push the ball forward just a little.

The next little action for “write blog” might be to simply open up a Word document and jot down ideas. That’s it! Then often that little action leads you to the next little action, and before you know it, you’re (I’m) done.

Finally, I invite you to write, “enjoy the people I love” on your To Do list. That one feels especially good to get done, and when you make that your priority, there simply is not enough time to sweat the small stuff. And, as they say, it’s all small stuff.

What helps you reduce overwhelm?  I’d love to hear your comments below!

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27 Oct

Sugar Buzz or Sugar Bust — What To Do With Too Much Halloween Candy?

We face the same problem with Halloween candy every year.  I don’t know why it continues to surprise me . . .

Last year I was mortified by the two pillowcases full of candy that my tween brought home on Halloween eve.  And this was after the sugar-filled school parties earlier that same day.halloween-candy


I immediately began to panic . . . how could my children actually want that much candy?  Do they have an eating disorder?  Have I deprived my children of too much sugar, fueling their desperate craving for anything sweet?  Will they ever be able to moderate their sweet intake by themselves?  How have I failed as a mother?  And what about the dental bills?

All of this and more swirled through my head and I reacted the way I often do when I feel out of control . . . I grabbed for the very control I lacked.

“You CANNOT eat all of that candy.  No Way!  Give me that right now.”

I reached out for the pillowcases but (surprise, surprise) they did not land lovingly in my hands.

Instead, my daughter said, “I worked hard for this loot!  You can’t take it from me!”

And as a result, the old familiar power struggle ensued.

So this year, I’m going to get ahead of the pillowcases.

By making agreements.

Agreements are such a powerful Positive Discipline parenting tool.  They help us get in front of the problem moments, so that those moments are fewer and farther between, and pass with far less drama.

Here’s my plan:

  1. During a calm time (this is very important), I’ll invite my children to help make a plan about Trick-or-Treating.
  2. I’ll ask them to share their feelings about Halloween candy.  “I noticed that last year we had some conflict about the candy.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you’d like to do this year with your candy.”
  3. Then I will shut my mouth and listen to their thoughts, feelings, and perspective.  I’ll validate their feelings, “I hear you.  You don’t get a lot of candy and it is a once-a-year opportunity!”
  4. Then I’ll (succinctly) share my feelings:  “My concern is that too much candy is unhealthy.  How can we find a win/win this year?”
  5. Then we will brainstorm solutions — every idea, no matter how ridiculous, will get written down.
  6. Then we will select a solution we can all agree on.  I’ll let them cross out ideas they can’t live with.  Then I’ll cross out the ideas I can’t live with.  I’ll ask them to vote on the ideas that remain.

Before they head out in their League of Legends and Bat Cat costumes, I’ll ask them, “Hey guys, what was our agreement for trick or treating?”  When they play it back to me I’ll say, “Thanks for remembering.  I trust you to follow through later.”

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Making agreements in this way does so much more than just get in front of the problem.  It also teaches children how to solve problems:  how to listen, take another person’s perspective, empathize, brainstorm, compromise, and follow through.  Those are skills that will come in handy well beyond this holiday.

What are your ideas for managing the abundant sugar this Halloween?  I’d love to hear them!  Leave your comments below.