Children are born with an innate desire to test their limits. Of course, this can be frustrating for you as a parent, because it leads to tantrums when they do something which is beyond a heathy boundary and you have to tell them so!
Boundaries are vitally important for children. This is what teaches them the difference between right and wrong, things they should be doing versus what they shouldn’t, it teaches them how to treat people, and it helps them to remain in a routine, therefore healthy and able to hit their developmental milestones. Of course, boundaries also help to raise well-behaved, curious, and respectful children too.
Whilst boundaries shouldn’t be too rigid, there are certain boundaries which need to be established pretty early on. Remember, it’s in your child’s nature to test their limits, to perhaps see how far they can push a situation, reach out and touch something bright and shiny (even though they know it’s probably going to hurt), or reach up and try and grab something from a high shelf.
This is all very normal, and it’s part of them pushing to see what they can and can’t get away with, therefore helping them to grow up. Of course, over time, making good choices allows them to grow up to be well-rounded and independent, which is where boundaries come in.
Without boundaries, your child would simply do whatever they wanted to do, regardless of the consequences. This is likely to lead to two things – accidents and bad behaviour.
Boundaries are vital, but setting them takes time and patience. Children can be defiant and choose to do what they want, regardless of what you tell them. That is where time and again, that patience comes in! You have to teach them where their boundaries are, without allowing yourself to become angry or upset when they try and see how far they can push.
Learning how to set healthy boundaries is therefore key. Here are five ways you can try for yourself.
Explain The Boundary And Why is it in Place
Your child needs to understand why they can’t do something, otherwise they’re just going to allow their curiosity to get the better of them and go for it anyway. When you set a boundary, sit your child down and explain the reason for it. For instance, if the boundary is that they don’t climb on chairs to reach up to high shelves, tell them that the chances of them falling and badly hurting themselves are high. If they want to reach something, they need to ask an adult to get it for them.
If the boundary is that they’re not allowed out after dinner, explain why. The reason could be that it’s starting to get dark at that time and it’s just not safe. You don’t want to put the fear into the by telling them that they might meet an unscrupulous stranger, but you can do it in a sensitive way, e.g. saying that children should be at home after dinner, and adults go out at that time.
Speak to Your Child Respectfully
It’s easy to shout and say “don’t do that”, but not only does your child need to know why they shouldn’t do that, but they also need to be spoken to in a calm and respectful way. They’re far more likely to respond in the way you want them to if you do this. Children are far more likely to rebel against a raised voice or an adult who refuses to explain why. Belittling your child will simply make them go against your wishes.
No matter how frustrated you are, sit your child down and explain the rule you want them to stick to. Encourage them to tell you what they think about the boundary you’ve put in place and answer any questions they have. For instance, if the boundary is that you don’t want your child to ride their scooter without wearing a helmet, tell them that this is a very firm boundary they should not cross, and then explain why.
Focus on The Consequences of Not Following the Boundary
Alongside explaining why the boundary needs to be followed, it’s best to explain the consequence of what happens if they don’t. This is far more likely to be effective and make them think twice about going against it!
You can focus on the what happens if they do something, e.g. if they play on their scooter without a helmet, they might fall and bang their head, but it’s better to let them know what will happen from a behaviour point of view. For instance, if they don’t help you to put the shopping away when you ask them to, you won’t buy their favourite chocolate bar for them the next time you’re out. Or, if they stay out playing for longer than the time they should be home, they can’t go out and play for three days afterwards.
This teaches your children that their actions have consequences and makes it more likely that they will stick to the boundary you have put into place.
Always Stick to Your Boundaries
You need to be super-consistent here. Make sure you’re clear on the boundary and that you stick to it. By being unclear in your own mind, you’re going to find yourself bumbling when they challenge you or ask why. Remember, most children will challenge you even more when they sense a sniff of weakness!
Also, if your child goes against what you’ve asked them to do, you have to follow through with the consequence you mentioned. If you let this go once, they won’t take the boundary seriously in the future nd will simply carry on doing whatever they want to do.
But, be Patient Too
It might take your child a short while to get to grips with their new rules, and it could be that they fall foul of a couple of times. If they’re genuinely remorseful and say they’re sorry and that they forgot, you have to follow through with the consequence in order to be consistent, but you should also help them to gently remember, by gong through it with them once more. Don’t expect perfect results straight away. Remember, your child is still learning and sometimes it takes them a little longer than it does for you.
The Biggest Don’ts Of Setting Boundaries
It’s important to make sure that the boundaries you are setting are necessary. Don’t go around setting rules just for the sake of it, your child needs to still have the opportunity to explore and learn for themselves. However, boundaries are ideal for situations which could cause pose a danger for your child if the boundary isn’t adhered to, or something which helps them to develop, such as doing chores around the house, not staying out past a certain time, etc.
Give your child time to adjust to the boundary and allow a little leeway at the start. However, if they regularly break the boundary, even if it seems like a genuine mistake, it’s important that you follow through with the consequence you outlined at the start. For instance, that might be no pocket money for a week, or not having time on their iPad for two days.
Any consequence you do set down needs to be in line with the boundary and not too out of place. For instance, you wouldn’t say that your child is grounded just because they forgot to put away their toys one day. Make sure consequences are reflected by the severity of the boundary breach.
Having too many boundaries in place and making them too rigid can actually cause your child to rebel against them, however if the boundaries are necessary for growth and safety, you shouldn’t worry too much about having a few boundaries in place at any one time. The key is that they need to be healthy, i.e. they need to be in place because they’re useful to your child. Having boundaries just to make your life easier isn’t really the route to go down, although these boundaries should actually do that because they help your child to develop and they ensure their safety.
It’s vital that you help your child to take the boundaries seriously and that’s the only way they will become second nature to them. That means you need to remind them, reinforce them, and make sure you’re consistent. Anything else is just going to make your child feel too relaxed about them and assume they’re optional. Boundaries are not optional, and you should explain this to your child, also telling them why. Explain in the best way you can according to their age, that it’s there for their own good, that it’s to keep them safe, or to help them to learn a particular skill or value.
Of course, if your child does wonderfully well sticking to the boundary, a small reward would also help them to remain on track!