A parent asked me: “There are times when I need to institute an already discussed boundary because my daughter has done something she knows she’s not supposed to do. How do I enforce that boundary without being angry or having to teach her about this all over again? Suggestions?”
My answer: Enforce your boundary by assuming that she knows better. Let me explain. You begin by asking your child a couple of questions. The questions are specific and require your child to really think about the situation so she can make better choices the next time.
For this to succeed you need to be sure that your assumption is correct. You need to be sure that your child really does know that she shouldn’t have (fill in the blank here). Once you’re sure of that, you have to accept the hard part. You need to accept that she either forgot the rules, did it on purpose, or was defiant for some reason. Either way you need to get to the bottom of the situation and enforce the boundary.
What you don’t need to do is be angry, punish or send her to her room, very little learning actually happens when things go down that road. If she’s angry, rude, mean or belligerent then she needs a couple of minutes to chill out before she answers your question.
You both can stand there while she breathes. You can ask her where she’d like to chill out? She can go into her room, with or without you. She can sit in a chair beside you. The key is there’s no talking, she has to stay silent while she thinks, and so do you. You get to use this time to do whatever it takes to remain calm. Do not cave in at this point or she will have learned that your boundaries mean nothing.
Once she’s calm ask her one or more of the following questions.
“What am I about to say right now?
What should you have done, instead of what you did?
What do you need to do to fix this?
How long will it take to fix this?
Is there anything else you need to do after you fix this?”
Those questions will cause her to really think about the situation, remember the family rules or boundaries, and take responsibility for fixing the damage done to a person’s feelings or property.
You can see how this process causes her to teach and remind herself of what she should have done, instead of you needing to teach a full on lesson, again.
If she can’t remember what she should have done instead, or what the rules are, then you do need to teach her the steps, the life skills she needs to know in order to be given the privilege of doing (fill in the blank here) so you can be sure she’s making good choices.