As a therapist and a mom, my favorite parenting courses is Love, Limits, and Latitude. It is a 3 part parenting class that gives a foundation to work with when parenting questions come up and you’re wondering what to do and what will be helpful for your children. Imagine a triangle. The foundation of that triangle is the relationship, or love. Without the relationship aspect, it is a struggle to effectively set limits. In the middle of the triangle is discipline, or limits. Lastly, at the top of the triangle, is latitude, or freedom and trust, which is another critical element of parenting. Together, these 3 components provide a helpful framework when faced with the daily decisions that are necessary as a parent.
What is love? Love is about feeling connected and important to the family. It’s about the essential attachment bond between members of the family. How is love shown? As the tagline of the course says, parenting is about a thousand small moments. Love is shown in many small ways and big ways. It’s about playing one-on-one with your child and showing them that their world is important to you. Be involved immersed in their block creations or playing outside with them. Go to the park with them. Watch ball games and dance to music with them. Read picture books and look at the stars on the trampoline with your children. It’s about making time from your busy schedule to play with your children, for by playing with them you strengthen the foundation of the triangle.
Love is having emotionally validating conversations and listening not only with your ears but also your heart. Children’s feelings are so important, even though their problems and challenges vary vastly from a grown up’s. This takes time instead of rushing to the solution or dismissing the logic of their emotions. When you do so, it creates an opportunity for connection between you. We show them that we’re there for them when we listen as they open up their hearts to share their raw emotions. We feel close to other people when we talk through hard things, not when we’re making small talk.
Love is about finding your children’s strengths and positives attributes and then telling them how wonderful they are. It’s lavishing praise and compliments and attention on them. John Gottman, a famous family researcher, promotes the 5 positives to 1 negative rule.¹ This means having 5 times as many thank-you’s and laughter and smiles and praise to the corrections and no’s. The 5:1 rule can be a difficult challenge, but such a rewarding challenge to take on.
Love is having consistent family routines from consistent chores and responsibilities to having daily family dinners to weekly game nights. It is having faith-based or value-based routines. It is camping in the summer and making hot fudge to pass out to the neighbors every Christmas. It is talking to your children and sharing your thoughts, understanding their emotions, and problem solving together at the end. Love is all this and more and Love, Limits, and Latitude explains each of these concepts in turn in much greater depth.
So why is love the foundation of the psychoeducational parenting course? We all need love and closeness. When your child feels close to you and you have lots of positives in your bank account then limits (the negative interactions) are easier to set. It makes your children feel important and valued and boosts self-confidence.
Next, the course explains how to set effective limits. First, know what is worth fighting for. Limits are based off your family values because limits are set with children in order to teach them how to be a good person and raise them up to follow your family values. You teach children through your example, by having family conversations on important subjects, talking one-on-one with children, and setting up family experiences that teach valuable concepts.
A key to limit setting is being consistent and predictable so the child knows what is expected from them and to be expected as a result. Limits help provide stability, structure and education to children. All of these things are so important for children.
Effective limits utilize clear commands. This means outlining what it acceptable to play in the house instead of the “calm down” command. Limits can be reinforced through giving positive rewards whether they are tangible things or extra privileges or just reinforcing attention. They can include ignoring small behaviors (such as eye-rolling) to taking away screen time for the afternoon to effectively using time outs. Find a positive discipline method that works for the temperament of that specific child. Each child is different and hence effective disciplining is different.
When mistakes have been made, have open and honest discussions about rules and principles when both you and the child are calm. Nothing is accomplished when negative emotions are too high and consequently more irritation and arguments occur. The downward spirals come too easily when we are too upset to talk about it. Have reasonable expectations for your children based on their capability both overall and at the moment.
Limits are important because they create stability and structure that children need to feel. They help children feel secure. And of course, limits teach children values that are important to the family. The overall goal of limits isn’t to punish, but to teach.
Lastly, latitude is important to help children be their own person with their own identity. It is giving children appropriate trust and freedom according to their developmental level so that they can learn more self-control and learn how to make decisions. Making choices also boosts their self-esteem². Involve children in making the rules and feel comfortable revising them when appropriate. Learn to pick your battles. When you focus on the most important things and give your child space to disagree with you on less valuable things then there will be less tension in the home and they will be less likely to rebel and more likely to turn to you for help. Being too forceful or coercive often backfires and doesn’t teach or get at what we are really trying to instill in our children. In the program, one mom gave the example that because she let her teen-aged son listen to his own music (which sounded awful to her) and get his ears pierced, she had enough positives in their relationship bank account that he listened to her on more important battles such as not skipping school and other more important family values. His earring came and went and the mom actually learned to enjoy some of his music.
Again, when children feel connected to you, loved, and valued then they will be more likely to follow the limits. Love, limits, and latitude. These 3 principles build the foundation for strong families. While this program is meant for children, I believe it can easily be adapted for teens. Love, limits, and latitude are tried and true principles of building love, harmony, values, and successful children.
This post just a brief overview of principles and practices taught in the program. Stay tuned for future, more in-depth posts about various individual concepts from this program.
If you are interested in taking an online Love, Limits, and Latitude course, provide your email here to be notified when Family Ninjas starts offering the course.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to replace the psychoeducational course or provide therapy. If you or someone in your family is dealing with distressing behaviors and emotions in the home that are causing a significant disruption, seek the help of a professional counselor.
Additional Resources and References
The program: Wells, M. G., Law, D. D. & Johnson, J. E. (2005) Love, Limits, and Latitude: A Thousand Small Moments of Parenting (2nd Edition). Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Academic Publishing.
¹Lisitsa, E. (2012, Dec 5). The positive perspective: John Gottman’s magic ratio. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved from http://www.gottmanblog.com/2012/12/the-positive-perspective-dr-gottmans.html
Quote 1 attribution: A great lesson on parenting from Ezra Taft Benson that emphasizes several of the Love, Limits, and Latitude concepts: Chapter 15: The sacred callings of fathers and mothers (2014). In Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. Retrieved from LDS.org