Age Appropriate limits are the limits we set for our children based on the child’s developmental age as opposed to their chronological age. Your child’s developmental age is the age at which they can understand and act on certain behaviors.


Age Appropriate limits are the limits we set for our children based on the child’s developmental age as opposed to their chronological age. Your child’s developmental age is the age at which they can understand and act on certain behaviors.

For example, you would not expect an 18 month old child to share and gladly hand over their toy to another child because you told them it was the right thing to do.

Therefore, when setting age appropriate limits, it is important that your expectations are realistically appropriate for the child’s age, level of development, understanding and ability to control their actions. We will frustrate ourselves and our child if we set limits that are beyond their developmental age.

Developmental Stages

Understanding and recognizing where your child is developmentally, will help you to set realistic and appropriate limits. Examine the following guidelines and remember each child is different and develops at their own rate.


Infants to age one love to explore. They do not understand that their behavior has any effect on anyone else.

For example, they will see a pretty bow in another baby’s hair and try to pull it out or grab a toy away from another child.

They are goal oriented and unable to understand the concept of sharing. When setting limits with an infant you want to remember that your goal is to teach the child a lesson not to punish the child.  

When you baby proof your home, you are setting limits that are safe and eliminating frustration for the infant.

Redirection is also an age appropriate tool to use for an infant. Introducing something else to attract the child’s attention also will eliminate the child’s frustration of not getting what they wanted.


Toddlers from 1 to 3 years old still do not understand the concept of sharing. They are impulsive and lack the capacity to plan.

For example, a toddler may see another child riding on a ride-around toy. If the toddler wants the toy, they will simple knock the other child off the toy to get it.

It is important to understand the toddler is not being a ‘bully’, but to them, the other child is simply an object in between them and what they want. They will simple push the other child out of the way the same way they would any object in their way.

Toddlers lack the capacity to remember rules and are developing their independence and testing the limits you are beginning to set.

Toddlers want your attention and therefore it is important that you give them attention that focuses on their good behavior.
Give toddlers an explanation of what behavior you want from them. If the toddler develops temper tantrums or becomes very upset, a short time out is effective to help the child learn to control his/her emotions. Withholding privileges usually does not work at this age., however repeated explanation of appropriate behavior is necessary.


Preschoolers from 3 to 5 years old are able to follow rules and are beginning to understand how their behavior affects them and others. They like to please you and you can generally explain to them what limits you have set. They may become very upset when they are unable to do something.

For example. A preschooler may be frustrated or angry if they don’t win at a game, or unable to draw a picture.

They are beginning to understand the consequences of their actions.

For example, if they get angry and tear up the picture they are drawing, it may be destroyed.

When setting limits for a preschooler it is very important to give positive reinforcement. Children in this age group are learning self-control and usually do not have control until around age seven. Preschoolers respond well to routines and encouragement. Redirection works at this age also. Set reasonable limits. At this age the child will try to push and test those limits so stick to your rules.

Help the child recognize their emotion by naming it.

For example: “I know you are sad because it’s raining, and you can’t go out”.

Encourage the child to talk about their emotions and empathize with them. Let the child know you understand their feelings; but you have set limits on their behavior when they are feeling that way.

For example: I know your sad, but it’s not ok to throw you toys when you feel this way.” Talk about what it is ok for them to do. “Why don’t you go get your blocks and let’s build a city instead.”


Children ages 5 to 7 still find it hard to understand the feelings of others. They may be impulsive and do not think ahead of the consequences of their actions. They may find it hard to sit still for longer than 20 minutes. Allow children in this age group to help you establish limits and rules.

When setting limits guide the children by helping them to resolve the issues themselves and be consistent with the consequences.

For example, two children may fighting over who gets to ride on the swing.

You help them to find an appropriate solution but at the same time being firm at what behavior is unacceptable.

School age children are beginning to learn how to monitor their own actions and how to resolve issues., however they need repeated reminders of rules.  

Establishing routines let the child what you expect. This helps them to begin to manage their time.

For example, the child needs to get their homework done before dinner.

Children begin to learn that there are consequences for not following the rules. Children are watching the adults around them very carefully, always try to set the example modeling the behavior you want the child to adopt.