Healthy Relationships

Setting Boundaries With Kids

June 7, 2022

Parents everywhere can unite under the assumption that children who grow up with firm but loving guidance have the best outcomes. We all strive to do this for our children, but it’s one thing to read a book or article about it and a much different beast to institute rules and boundaries in our homes. Why? Because kids are people, too, and as much as we want to control their behavior, that just isn’t reality. Enter the need for boundaries. 

Kids love to push limits, especially during different developmental stages in their lives. Just think of the last time you told your child not to touch something, only to have him turn around with a little grin and do it anyway. In their world, which is getting bigger (and sometimes scarier!) every day, kids need to know that a loving parent is there to protect them and help them understand expectations. Boundaries are just what they seem: rules and expectations taught to children firmly but kindly so they understand what behaviors are acceptable in their household and the world.

How do I teach my kid boundaries?

Be clear and consistent. Kids don’t respond well to wishy-washy rules. If you say they can’t watch TV on school nights until their homework is done, that rule needs to stay in place for every school night. No excuses. In fact, it’s best to sit down and have a conversation about the rules and expectations in your home. Keep this conversation brief, especially if you have young children in the mix. Let kids know that you’re open to hearing their point of view if they believe a rule is unfair, but some rules, once set by you, are non-negotiable. 

Communicate effectively. Teaching children effective and respectful communication is one of the best tools we can give them. Boundary setting is a great place to start this lesson. Kids should be free in their homes to express opinions, ideas, worries and concerns. The caveat? They need to do it respectfully, especially when it comes to questioning boundaries and rules. Do this by modeling kind speech for your child by speaking to them with respect. Yes, they’re only three feet tall, but they’re also a human learning how the world works with a whole range of emotions inside them. They deserve our respectful words just as we deserve theirs. Teach your children how to form “I feel” statements, such as “I feel sad when you tell me that I can’t play my video game. I feel tired after school, and I’m not ready to do my homework when I get home.”

Follow through. This is, maybe, the hardest part. When your little angel breaks the rules or pushes the boundaries, it’s time to follow through with a consequence. Sometimes, as parents, we get heated ourselves, and throw out consequences that we have no intention of following through on, like “You’re never going to watch TV ever again!” Don’t be afraid to dole out a consequence if behavior warrants it; however, make sure it’s something you can stick to so your child knows you’re serious. This is how you maintain boundaries so they are aware of the cause-and-effect pattern for the next time they break the same rule.

Be patient. When your child is first learning about your household’s boundaries or trying to grasp a new rule, they’re likely to make mistakes. Remember that children who act out are not bad, but they may not feel understood. There may be an underlying problem that is as simple as it’s really hard to start a new habit and break an old one. We all know that, right? Be patient with them as they stumble along and remember that they may need a few tries and misses before they fully understand the limits.

Is it too late?

The older kids get, the more difficult it is to turn problem behaviors around. That being said, it’s never too late to set boundaries, especially if your kids are heading off the rails. Establishing the rules of the house with older kids will entail a different set of boundaries than with younger ones. You will most likely cover things like curfews, helping around the house and even rules involving the family car. The same set of tips applies: Be clear and consistent, communicate effectively, follow through and be patient. Even older children benefit from the help of loving rules and boundaries that create routine and take a bit of the uncertainty out of life. 

Whether you have toddlers, kids, tweens, or teens, setting boundaries and creating family rules will only create a more consistent and stable household. This stability translates into happier and healthy adults, making the case for being both loving and clear in your expectations. At times, it may feel really hard to set a boundary and follow through, but just remember to look at the bigger picture and know that your child will benefit from your thoughtfulness and consistency as they grow and change throughout their lives.