A few other common issues and examples to illustrate setting boundaries without punishment:
“If you throw your food on the floor then you are telling me that you are done eating.” So throwing food ends the meal. When introducing this idea it’s helpful to give second chances when the child realizes they’ve ended the meal, but throwing a third time is starting a game I’m not willing to play.
“It is bedtime and that means stay in your bed.” Sit outside the door and calmly, and without comment, return the child to their bed every time they get up. I don’t happen to worry about bedtimes but for some it’s important to have children in their own bed and endless bedtimes are not necessary. I would recommend this for an older toddler or child who is struggling and I do not at all recommend this for babies or young toddlers. There are lots of better answers for sleep issues in wee ones!
“Food stays at the table.” This is our rule, as I don’t mind if children are up and down but food is not allowed to leave the table. If a child is caught wandering with food they are returned with this reminder and the food is put on the table. A variation for those who want their children to stay at the table during mealtimes is, “Leaving the table means you are done eating.” As with the throwing food boundary I would be more lenient when introducing this rule, but three times up means the child is wanting to play more than they are wanting to eat.
As you can see, none of these examples needs punishment attached to drive home the lesson. And each of the boundaries is age appropriate! The idea of age appropriate is not an excuse for allowing poor behavior and it’s not a reason to endure it. Rather, studying what is age appropriate will prepare you for what to expect, remind you that almost all children of this age do this (in other words, it’s not just your child and it’s nothing personal!) And encourage you to be prepared with a boundary and a plan for how to prevent a negative impact.
One thing to remember when setting boundaries is that each of us has different tolerance levels for things. This means that what is bothering you is a great indicator that you need to set a boundary, but it’s not the only time one is needed.
Especially in our first example of a hitting toddler, it’s important to not think the world has to endure your child being a toddler. There is never a time where it’s okay for your child to hurt someone else, or be destructive, without you stepping in a putting a stop to it. When you are working to not be punitive and others know it they will be looking to see what you do instead of punishment.
Letting them see you do SOMETHING will go a long way in them not accusing you of being permissive – because it’s a long way from actually being permissive.