Module 4: Promoting Mental Health in Early Childhood


Complying with Requests and Limits

Children who feel loved and satisfied in relationships are more willing to comply with rules and limits. During early childhood, children learn to balance their individual wants and growing independence with their relationships with parents and peers. Lack of cooperation can develop if children are not given enough autonomy; their needs are not fulfilled; and rules are inconsistently enforced.

Questions to Ask

  • How does your child act around you and others? Is he cooperative or defiant?
  • What do you do when he doesn’t cooperate? What do others in your family do?
  • How do other caregivers gain your child’s cooperation?
  • Tell me how you set limits for your child.
  • Do you need help in managing your child’s behavior? Does anyone ever get angry with him? What happens then? Do you ever spank him?

Provider Tips

  • Begin a discussion of appropriate expectations by helping parents recall the ages at which they were expected to do things. Monitor for excessive parental demands that do not respect the child’s need for independence.
  • Explore parents’ feelings when their child reacts angrily to their requests. Parents who have difficulty tolerating their child’s anger may have experienced overwhelming situations during their childhood, such as harsh discipline, abuse, or domestic discord.
  • Help parents differentiate between their current role and past experiences. Refer parents to a mental health professional for counseling as needed.
  • If parents are inconsistent in following through on their requests, consider factors that may make them regard their child as special or vulnerable. (See the Vulnerable Child Syndrome in the Areas of Concern section.)
  • If children display excessive or consistent noncompliance, evaluate their hearing ability, level of development, and language skills to determine if they are able to respond to requests.
  • Using the guidance listed below, help parents support and reinforce cooperation in their family.

Guidance for Parents

  • Your child will be more likely to cooperate if he feels loved and valued. You can encourage cooperation by:
    • Maintaining regular routines
    • Setting consistent limits and appropriate expectations
    • Making clear requests
    • Allowing your child to make acceptable choices
    • Praising him for cooperating.
  • Reduce the number of requests you make of your child. Decide which limits and rules are most important to you and be consistent in your expectations. Always follow through on each request you make. Avoid asking your child to do something if you can’t follow through to make sure he completes the task.
  • Be sure your child is able to do what you have asked him to do and don’t expect more than he is capable of doing. Once you’ve told your child to do something, don’t back down if he refuses to respond. This will only reinforce his disobedient behavior. Tell him again, calmly and firmly, what you expect him of him and wait a short while for him to do it. If he still doesn’t cooperate, use consequences such as putting him in “time out”, taking away a toy, or turning off the TV.
  • Avoid confrontations with your child, shaming him, nagging at him, or making requests that are inconsistent or confusing. Never spank, hit, or yell at your child when he refuses to cooperate. This will just lead him to think that it is okay to use violent behavior to get what he wants. Use discipline that teaches him rather than punishing him.
Resources for Providers and Families

For Providers

Area of Concern: Vulnerable Child Syndrome more information

Explore parents’ feelings if they perceive their child as special or vulnerable, or if they have trouble tolerating their child’s negative emotions. Ask parents:

  • How does your child’s behavior make you feel?
  • What does it make you worry about?
  • What does your child’s behavior remind you of in your past?

Taking a complete medical history is valuable because it may reveal infertility, fetal or newborn loss or other family losses, adoption history, or a history of serious illness, which may predispose parents to overprotect the child.

A traumatic past may interfere with a parent’s ability to allow the child to feel frustrated. To deal with such ghosts from the past, parents may need referral to a mental health professional for psychotherapy.

For Families

Guidelines for Special Time PDF

Communicating with Children PDF

Following Directions

Principles of Limit Setting PDF

What is the best way to discipline my child?


Copyright Georgetown University Georgtown University Early Childhood