ABCs of Parenting – B – Boundaries

Today’s word is: Boundaries.

A boundary is defined as “something that indicates the furthest limit.” In parenting, this usual is the mark that we set as acceptable for behaviour or expectations before we have to follow through with some method of discipline or consequence.

Boundaries are an important part of development for our children. Similar to baby gates that block the stairs for their safety as infants, setting limits for kids allows them to understand what is acceptable, and what is not. Some examples of boundaries we set are things like bedtimes, not leaving the backyard when playing outside, having to wear seatbelts in the car, what video games they can/cannot play, and what they are allowed to buy at the store.

Make sure that your child knows exactly what is expected of them and what the consequences are if they don’t follow the rules. Be clear, explicit and make sure they hear/understand. Getting down on their level and making eye-contact, having them repeat what they’ve heard, and asking if they understand are good steps to take with younger in order to make sure you are both on the same page.

Whenever there’s a boundary, there also has to be a consequence if that expectation is broken. Things like leaving a store if there’s a meltdown, having to come inside if they are throwing rocks when outside, losing their video game console if they play unacceptable games for their ages, etc – these are consequences of actions. The big key is to be consistent. Make sure that whatever the disciplinary action you set up is actually going to be something you can follow through on. Set the plan up before there is an issue – so that you don’t have to come up with a wild counter reaction when you are frustrated and annoyed.

Another good tip is to remember to be realistic in your boundary setting. Kids are kids. If you are going to box their actions so tightly that they can’t do … well… anything – you are going to find they are set up to fail regularly. Give them opportunities to show that they can successfully stick within a boundary – trust your kids. If you have made sure they know and understand what is expected of them, and realize there’s a consequence, they only need a simple reminder if they look like they are veering off-course from the plan.

Although being consistent with your boundaries are very important, it’s also important to remember that you need to adjust your boundaries in different situations  – and also as your kids grow older. For example, a 7 o’clock bedtime might not be appropriate for a 10 year old, whereas it’s a perfect time for a 3 year old. Re-evaluate the boundaries with your kids and ask what they think of them. They might have surprisingly insightful ideas on how to change the expectations.

Just to be clear – my own kids challenge my boundary lines on a daily basis. If your child is one that constantly pushes at the expectations that you’ve set out for them, I want you to know that you are not alone. It’s exhausting ! The biggest challenge is keeping with it and following through consistently with the consequences that have been put in place. I’ve given up too many times when I’ve been tired, overwhelmed, worn-down. This is probably the worst thing that can happen, because it’s like showing a weakness in your armour. It allows kids to keep pushing that button over and over. It’s important to keep with it. I have to remind myself of that daily – even when I just want to run away and cry somewhere if things have gone bad in the day. If I can do it – you can too!

What kinds of struggles do you have with your kids and boundaries? Do you have any tips for parents who are dealing with regular boundary pushers? What have you found works/doesn’t work?

Lisa Marie Fletcher


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