Setting Boundaries for Kids

When parents work with their children to set and enforce appropriate limits, they are teaching them skills for a productive future. If parents set and maintain limits, their children will learn from positive discipline and develop their own healthy sense of right versus wrong and self-discipline. Sometimes parents may want to spoil children as a way to show love. But does giving a child everything she wants really make her feel loved? Perhaps, but more importantly, it may make her feel empowered to always do as she pleases. A better display of love is to make sure that your children develop positive behavior by consistently following the rules.  

Rules are set best when parents and children set them together. Being a part of the rule-setting process helps children better understand the expectations, rewards and consequences when rules aren’t followed. For example, you and your child may create the rule that toys need to be picked up at night; the reward is a half hour TV show.  If the toys are not picked up, the consequence is no TV.  Creating a poster for “house rules” is an effective exercise that you and your child can easily do together.  Your child can help you write the rules and decorate the poster while you explain the expectations and consequences.  You and your child can then hang the poster in a communal place, like the dining or living room, and share the rules with the rest of the family.

Show your child you love her by being consistent. Parents who give in to their children regularly rather than enforcing the rules of good behavior are doing their children a disservice.  It is important to remember that, even though children may test boundaries as they learn more about the world around them, they truly desire structure and discipline.  Setting limits for your child is a way to give her the attention she needs and show that you love her and want the best for her.

It is also important to stand firm with consequences.  When a rule is violated, remind your child of the consequence and enforce it. Empty threats only tell your child that you will not follow through and, therefore, she doesn’t need to follow the rules.  Consistent application gives your child a sense of security in knowing that you mean what you say and hold her to certain expectations.
Parents may have a hard time setting boundaries for their children because they are afraid that if they do, their children won’t like them. Some parents also feel that setting limits restricts their child’s creativity or sense of exploration. Remember that firmness is not cruelty. Being firm, while still being kind and fair, creates a strong foundation for your relationship with your child. Be sure that your expectations are clear and that your child fully understands them.

When you set firm boundaries for your child, you are letting her know that you care about her and want her to feel safe and secure as she learns about the world. She will understand that you are an authority that she can always trust.  Parents who work with their children to set rules for appropriate child behavior and administer them fairly, firmly and consistently, create a relationship built on trust that will and help their children develop into responsible and dependable adults.

What is the most effective way that you set and enforce rules in your home?

Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center.  She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator,  Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year.  She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.

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Wilhelm, Tamara, MA, LMHC. “How Boundary Setting can Positively Affect Children.” The Confident Mom. 1 November 3012. <http://www.theconfidentmom.com/04/faith-and-family/setting-boundaries-children/>.

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