Setting Boundaries

8:28 pmin Articles Rosemary Strembicki

Boundaries Oh, that two-year-old! We’re all familiar with the trials of reining in those little ones who are discovering their autonomy and need constant reminders of the rules and dangers. But that’s only the beginning. Setting boundaries for our children is a constant throughout their lives; and, if you really think about it, when it comes to relationships of all types, it’s a constant for all of us. But let’s talk about kids.

Whether or not they will admit it, our children rely on us to help them learn how to manage their desires and live within the rules. It’s a big job to which we usually just react instead of giving it some thought. But if we consider how we were raised, what we want for our children and how to battle the “culture of yes”, we can feel confident that we have some tools with which to work.

First, let’s consider the lessons you learned as you were growing up. What were the expectations? Were the rules enforced? Were you encouraged to share and consider other people’s needs? How you answer these questions will help you determine your expectations of your children. If you were raised in a permissive household it’s likely  there were few rules or consequences and endless negotiation. An authoritarian household offered rigid rules, strict enforcement and no negotiation. In a balanced household you would find firm rules and enforcement, limited negotiation and respect for all opinions. Now think about how you parent, how it is the same or different and how you might like to change.

When determining the expectations of your children it’s important to have an understanding of their age and stage of development. That two-year-old may understand “no” and being removed from a dangerous situation but can’t understand your concern for his safety. The school age child can understand that you’re worried about him riding his bicycle in the street but have little understanding of how a helmet will protect him. And when you hand the car keys over to your teenager you can bet the thought of having an accident hasn’t even crossed her mind. So the consequences you put into place to keep your child safe are going to be different depending on the child’s age. Know your child’s capacity to meet your expectations and remember to be consistent with the consequences when the rules are broken.

So, how do we fight the “culture of yes,” those messages that everything is OK and the idea that we can attain anything we want without regard to hard work or consideration of others?

Here are a few things to keep in mind in helping your children set realistic boundaries:

  • Be clear in your values
  • Develop a relationship with your child built upon mutual respect
  • Model the behavior that you would like to see
  • Practice self-discipline, demonstrating limit setting in your own life
  • Encourage your children to do for themselves and take responsibility
  • Insist on courteous and responsible behavior
  • Say “no” when it teaches an important lesson or a limit has been reached
  • Avoid giving in and ignoring consistently bad behavior
  • Keep things in perspective and avoid overreacting

We all have dreams of having the “perfect” child, one who knows the rules, follows them consistently and always chooses to do what’s right. But the reality is that we’re all learning as we make our way through life. We’re all faced with choices that can sometimes lead us off of the intended path. Maintaining a close, respectful relationship with our children enables them to trust us to help them make decisions and pick them up and brush them off when they fall along the way.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you set clear and consistent boundaries for your children?
  • How well do you practice self-discipline?
  • Are you comfortable saying “no” to your children when it is appropriate?
  • Do you keep a reasonable perspective most of the time or do you find yourself overreacting?
  • What small steps could you make in order to set and maintain healthier boundaries?

Conversation starters:

  • I understand _____’s family allows that.  But our family _____________________.
  • In our house we ________________________________________.
  • I hear what you’re saying, but we may just need to agree to disagree on this for now.  Our rule is ___________ and we need to abide by that.



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