Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert J. MacKenzie

Read: 21 February, 2012

Since my son was born, I’ve occasionally indulged in “mommy boards” – online forii where mothers argue, call each other names, and generally try to maximize the amount of parental guilt each feels. In other words, oodles of fun.

In these groups, The Great Spanking Debate often rears its ugly head. At one end of the spectrum are those who decry spanking as a failure in parenting, while at the other are those who say that spanking is God’s Gift to Parents. But the more interesting responses are from the vast majority who say that spanking isn’t ideal, but that many kids simply don’t response to other methods of discipline and make the occasional spank a necessity.

Setting Limits is about those kids.

The premise of the book is that while some kids are naturally very compliant and eager to please, some kids are strong-willed and will always seek to test limits. Setting Limits doesn’t talk about spanking, but the position of the author is clear that the problem lies with the parent. Compliant kids are very forgiving and will respond well even to inconsistent or inefficient disciplinary methods, but strong-willed kids need a much more strategic parenting style.

The focus of the book is on setting clear expectations, making consequences proportional to transgressions and logically related to transgressions, and following through on stated punishments. I still found it a bit heavy handed for my bleeding heart, but I generally found the advice sound. The real strength of Setting Limits is in the numerous examples of possible situations. Too often, parenting books cover the theory, give a few highly scripted examples, and leave me feeling no wiser as to how I should actually be applying any of it. But in Setting Limits, much of the book is devoted to running through a wide variety of situations, making the practical application far easier.

But, like many books in the genre, Setting Limits was far too wordy and repetitive, repeating every idea about as many times as the English lexicon could allow. The book could easily have been a quarter of its present length and still be a little on the wordy side.

My son is still pre-verbal, so I’m a little early to actually put any of the theory to the test, but I do feel that Setting Limits has helped me prepare a bit. I would recommend it but, as with all parenting books, with the caveat that it should be read as a possible source of ideas only, not as an instruction manual.

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