Core Childhood Needs: Realistic Limits

Updated: Apr 1

In order to function well in our relationships and wider society, we must learn to both set and accept healthy realistic limits. Among other things, this can help us to understand how to compromise, how to ensure our own needs and the needs of others are met, and keep ourselves and others safe.



However, not everyone receives realistic, age-appropriate limits as a child. Some children may be too severely restricted or receive inconsistent or excessive punishment. Others may not receive clear boundaries at all. Both can lead to anxious children who are not sure what is expected of them, children who excessively rebel against limits, or children who struggle to control their impulses and frustrations. As a result, difficulties in interpersonal relationships may arise within the family, social and academic/occupational context.



So what can we do as adults to help to fulfil the need for realistic limits in our children? Here are a few ideas:

· Make limits and consequences of overstepping these limits clear to children

· Share with children what kind of behaviour is expected of them

· Provide explanations as to why certain limits and boundaries are in place

· Identify what type of behaviour is acceptable and what is not acceptable

· Ensure limits are age-appropriate and safe

· Ensure limits are not driven by your own challenges, such as anxiety, an excessive sense of danger, a desire to keep everyone happy, worry about being disliked etc.

· Encourage open conversation and a nurturing environment

Children who have been raised with realistic limits are more likely to tolerate frustration, control their impulses, achieve compromises, be empathetic and have rewarding interactions with others.


The need for realistic limits remains relevant for us as adults. Interestingly, sometimes in adulthood, not accepting realistic limits can be rewarded, in particular in the corporate world. Nonetheless, we may find that if we grew up without realistic limits and struggle with boundaries, we may over-extend ourselves, sacrificing our own wellbeing for the needs of others. Alternatively, we may risk damaging our relationships or careers by being overly impulsive or intolerant of small frustrations. A lack of developing realistic limits has also been associated with addiction, impulsivity and dysfunctional risky behaviour. However, regardless of our childhood, with the right tools, we are able to meet this need in adulthood without letting the past control us. The way we would treat children now, is the way we can also nurture our own inner child.


To find out more about how to help your children experience appropriate boundaries or to comfortably meet your own need for realistic limits, book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2715 4577 or e.terrighena@mind-balance.org.

Dr Esslin Terrighena - Psychologist in Hong Kong

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