Ask Sarah How to Hold Boundaries

Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries, or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance.

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Q: I’m 100% on board with peaceful parenting. I’ve never raised my voice at my four-year-old daughter and have always consoled her with empathetic words and hugs during difficult emotions. She LOVES to be carried, but her father and I have bad backs, and she’s getting too heavy to pick up.

She recently started having meltdowns saying, “I can’t walk,” and throwing herself onto the floor when we can’t carry her. I tell her calmly and emphatically that she can do it and that she’s strong, but she escalates quickly and cries so hard she nearly chokes.

The other day she did this while I sat nearby on the couch (in view). I told her she could come to get a big hug and a lollipop from the kitchen whenever she was ready to walk. It took a while, but she finally ran to me. I spoke sweetly and held her on the couch for an hour. She calmed down, but I wondered if I could’ve done anything differently.

If I try to hug her while she’s on the floor, she climbs me like a tree, further hurting my back. She has this same tantrum when my mother — who also can’t pick her up — is watching her. Thoughts? 

A: This is so tough. It must be heartbreaking for both of you not to be able to pick her up when she wants you to.

I suggest you talk to her about it with a collaborative problem-solving lens while it’s not happening. I would start the conversation with, “I noticed that it’s tough for you when you want to be carried, and Daddy and I can’t do it. Do you have any ideas for how we can make you feel cozy without picking you up? What else could we do?”

I used the word “cozy” because I assumed it was connection she was looking for. Hopefully, she can brainstorm some ideas that will help. Then, when you have a few ideas, I would practice them and take turns role-playing so that they will get at least a little wired into her brain.

If it happens again and she isn’t able to do what you practiced, it’s okay to do exactly what you described to me: lovingly and patiently holding the limit with her.

It’s okay if she is upset about a limit you have set. You are there to support her with empathy. Sometimes when kids are being “provocative,” it’s actually because they are looking for a way to release all the big feelings and tensions they might be carrying around in their little bodies. Crying is a great way to do that.

A few words about limits: In peaceful parenting, we only hold limits necessary for health and safety. Some parents might refuse to carry a four-year-old because they fear their child will never learn to walk when she needs to or be independent.

When we are holding a limit based on fear (of what might happen, what people will think, how our child will turn out, etc.), it is usually not the right choice to hold a limit.

In this case, the limit is necessary for health- your health.

I know it feels terrible to have a child so upset, but you’re doing all the right things. Hang in there!

Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15 and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

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