The Best Way to Help our Children to Cooperate: Loving Limits


Making parenting easier and more enjoyable.

How do we support our children to cooperate, to be loving to their siblings, to help in the family, to respond to us with love and ease? Parenting feels so much easier when our children are behaving in these ways than when they are fighting with their siblings, refusing to cooperate, arguing and shouting. But how do we support them so that they are less likely to be having challenging behaviour?

From an Aware Parenting perspective, the most common cause of behaviour struggles with our children is pent up and unreleased stress and trauma. When our children are carrying around painful feelings, it is so much harder for them to be relaxed and happy and cooperative. So we can see their challenging behaviour as a red flag that they are waving at us, saying that they need our support and loving listening in order to offload these painful feelings and get back to balance.

One very effective way to support our children to do this is with Loving Limits. This is a term developed by Level 2 Aware Parenting Instructor Marion Rose. When we offer Loving Limits to our children, we are lovingly saying a “no” to their behaviour and a loving “yes’ to welcome the expression of the feelings that are underneath that are causing the behaviour. The key is to be loving as we gently tell our children “I’m not willing for you to keep playing now because we have to leave soon. I am right here and I am listening”. This allows our children to access the feelings that are driving them to struggle to be cooperative, and any other feelings that are lying close to the surface, and to offload these feelings with our loving support and care. We use a warm tone of voice, we shine our love towards our children and we let them know that we understand that it’s hard for them and we care.

It’s important to understand that the limit is not going to make our children immediately stop the difficult or demanding behaviour and say “Ok mum, no worries I will stop that now”. That is not the purpose of offering a loving limit. But the limit is going to give them an edge or a boundary to come up against, whilst they also feel deeply connected to us and loved, both of which will allow the tears and anger to flow out. So the purpose of the loving limit is to support our children to connect with their accumulated feelings with our love and then be able to release them.

We can offer loving limits in all kinds of ways. Sometimes we might set a limit by limiting our own behaviour e.g. “I’m not willing to go to town today. I know you really want to go. I am here and I am listening”. Or we might offer a limit around screens – “After this game finishes we are going to switch it off and do something else. I know you really want to keep playing. I am right here and listening”. Sometimes, if our child is being aggressive towards their sibling, we can offer a limit by gently holding their hand so they can’t hit and saying “I’m not willing for you to hit John. I can see that you are upset and I am right here with you”. In all of these cases, what we are then doing is holding a safe space for our children to release feelings through tears. We are showing our children that we understand that things are hard for them and they are feeling upset and we are there to listen and support them.

It is really helpful whenever we see our children's behaviour as a sign that they have accumulated feelings, to first ask ourselves "Do we have capacity right now to listen to feelings"? If the answer is yes, we can then check in with ourselves to get really clear about what we are willing for and not willing for in this moment. When we take a moment to do this, it allows us to embody the loving limit in a way that allows our children to really feel the "No" to the behaviour and the "Yes" to the feelings at the same time.

We then move in close and offer connection. If they are being aggressive or distructive, we offer the limit first - "Sweetheart I am not willing for you to hurt the dog". Then we offer the compassionate connection "I am right here and listening. I know you don't want to hurt him. I love you. I am here". If they are dissociating, we offer the connection first and then the limit - "Can you show me what you are doing on your screen? Wow, love that looks amazing." We might cuddle them and give them some love. Then we offer the limit - "Sweetheart, I am not willing for you to be on the screen anymore. It's time to switch off".

The key is to keep holding the "No" and the "Yes" at the same time and keep checking in with ourselves to see if we are still feeling capacity to listen, to stay loving, to hold the "No" and keep welcoming the feelings. If we find ourselves running out of steam and the limit is starting to feel less loving or less "limity", we can stop and come back to it later.

With these limits and our loving listening to the feelings that then come up, our children quickly return to balance, to being cooperative and relaxed and to their true loving nature. Once the feelings that have been getting in the way of them being loving are released and lovingly heard, our children are free to be themselves, our relationship is strengthened further and they know they are unconditionally loved.

Your parenting coach and mentor

About Joss Goulden

I am a trauma-informed Parenting Coach and a Level 2 Aware Parenting instructor, certified with the Aware Parenting Institute. I have been practising Aware Parenting for 17 years and am the mother of 2 children, aged 19 and 17.

I am also passionate about Homeschooling and Natural Learning. I have homeschooled my 2 children and I have been supporting families with Homeschooling and Natural Learning for many years.

Aware Parenting with Joss

I am so passionate about sharing this beautiful approach with parents. I believe that Aware Parenting is THE solution for so many of the challenges facing the world. - Joss Goulden, Aware Parenting Instructor
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