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Helping Parents Set Limits and Respond to Misbehavior
Authors: Rajeswari Natrajan with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

As a childcare provider, you might have some scary stories about trying to manage a group of young children. Children are curious and want to explore. They also want to be independent. This may lead children to break the rules. They may also put themselves in unsafe situations.

Parents also may talk to you about their own struggles to control their children. Parents may complain to you that their children break rules and do not listen to the parents. There are different ways that you can help parents respond when their children break the rules. In this section we describe how you can help parents set limits for their children. We also describe how you can help parents react when their children misbehave. You can help them find out why their children are breaking the rules, and you can help them learn to use natural or logical consequences.

When should you talk to parents about setting limits and responding to misbehavior?

          • …a parent is very loose with making children follow rules. You may see that the parent has very few or no clear rules
            for his child. You may feel that the child always gets his or her own way. For example, the parent may have no rules
            about how his child should behave in public. He may not have decided ahead of time what he will do if the child is
            either good or bad. Sometimes, a parent’s behavior may be close to neglect of his child. In that case, you may try to             help the parent. If you feel that the situation is serious, you must report it to Child Protective Service (CPS).

          • …a parent has too many rules for her child. For example, you may see that the parent is always telling the child
            “no.” Or you may see that the child is afraid of making his own choice. He always asks his mother what to do.

          • …parents and children are struggling with each other all the time. For example, you may hear the parents always
            saying “do this,” and the children saying “I will not.”

          • …a parent is always nice to the child and never talks about the rules. This parent may seem afraid to ever make the
            child upset. For example, a child might do something that hurts the parent. The parent might try to get the child to
            stop, but she never says that it hurts. The child does not learn about how his actions make other people feel.

          • …a parent does different things on different days. A parent may have rules and standards of behavior for his child,
            but the parent does not always follow through with them. For example, a parent tells you that he wants his child to
            stop throwing tantrums. But you see that parent give in when his child screams and kicks because she wants
            something. Or you see a parent insist one day that her son put on his own coat, and the next day she does it for

          • …a parent has very strict rules that never change. For example, maybe you see that a parent does not allow the
            child to talk back. Then you see that parent punish his child whenever she answers “no” to a question. The parent
            seems to think that any negative answer is talking back. He does not think about the reasons for the child saying
            no. Sometimes you may think that a parent’s behavior could be abuse. You may talk to the parent and the child
            about this. You are also required to report any abuse you suspect to Child Protective Service (CPS).

          • …the parent is threatening the child all the time to get the child to stop misbehaving. For example, you may hear a
            parent tell his screaming child, “Shut up, or I will make you shut up!”

You may decide that it is important to talk with parents who do these things. Below are some good ideas that you can help them to understand.

Setting Limits

Limits are guidelines or rules. They are what adults expect from children. Limits say what children may do and what they should not do. For example, parents might set a limit for going outside. They might say, “You may go outside only when a grown-up is with you.”

It is important that both child care providers and parents learn to set clear limits with children. Limits protect children. Limits also can help children get along with people and take care of things. Children need limits to help them feel secure and safe. They need to know that they can trust adults to stop them when they get into situations that will hurt them. Setting limits teaches children that you care about them. They learn that you want them to be safe and responsible.

You can help parents set effective limits and share some approaches with them. They can think about what limits are right for their children and how to be consistent with them.

Finding the Cause of Misbehavior

Sometimes it is hard to know why children do what they do. Sometimes it seems like they want to be bad. That is not true most of the time, though. Understanding why children misbehave is important. This will help you and the parents to respond more effectively to them and their behavior. There may be several reasons why a child is misbehaving. For example, he might not be feeling well, he might be trying to get attention, or he might be curious or upset. It is not bad to be sick, to want attention, or to be curious. It is not good to hurt others or to do something dangerous, though. You can help parents figure out the reason for their child’s misbehavior. Encourage them to look for patterns in their children’s behavior. They can talk to their children about feelings. Parents could also suggest solutions and see if they sound good to the child. Discipline is more effective when it matches the needs of the child.

Natural and Logical Consequences

Sometimes parents cannot prevent wrong behavior. Sometimes they need to do something to teach the child what is wrong and what is right. It helps if parents teach their children the connection between their actions and the results of their misbehavior. Using logical and natural consequences is one way to do that.

Natural consequences are results that naturally happen after a child’s behavior. The adult does not need to do anything. The situation will take care of itself. For example, if a child does not eat at mealtime, she will get hungry later. If she does not play carefully with a toy, she may break it. Natural consequences work well if the child will care about the consequence and if the child is not in danger.

Logical consequences are things that the adult manages, but they are related to the behavior. For example, if the child uses a toy to hit another child, the adult takes away that toy or makes the child sit on a chair instead of playing. If the child leaves her bicycle in the driveway, the adult puts the bike away for a day.

Share these strategies with parents. They can get out of power struggles with their children by setting limits and responding in a positive way to their children’s misbehavior.

For more information go to:
Here you will find information on different kinds of limit setting and the difference between negative and positive discipline.
Here you will find several examples of how to guide children positively to enhance their self-worth and teach them self-control.


   Finding the causes of misbehavior
   Setting limits

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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