Setting boundaries for children is probably one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. Being consistent, being effective and being realistic are just some of the key aspects, but are often the areas we fall down on. Here are 10 practical tips on setting boundaries for your child that are effective and easy to implement.
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In your life-before-kids did you ever watch how other people’s kids behave and think, “When I have kids they’ll never behave like that!”?
Laugh out loud now the clock has forwarded a few years! Being a parent is never as easy as it seemed before we had kids – and setting boundaries for your children is probably one of the toughest tasks.
Knowing how to effectively set boundaries for children matters because it is absolutely crucial to helping them learn: ‘this is how we do life’.
Sadly, many parents set boundaries against their child, which creates power struggles rather than co-operation. The secret lies in having a mindset that you are setting boundaries for your child – not against your child. It’s about developing an attitude that boundaries are limits to ensure every family member’s well-being.
If you sometimes feel like you’re constantly repeating, “Stop that”, “Do this”, ”Don’t do that”, then here’s some guidelines for setting boundaries for children that will make family life easier rather than creating added stress in the family.
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Setting Boundaries 101
#1. Consider your child’s perspective before setting a boundary
Sometimes your child is deeply immersed in their own agenda. Imagine if you were your child. How might you react if you were seeing life through their eyes? When you consider your child’s point of view, you’ll find it easier to avoid setting boundaries that your child pushes against.
Effective boundaries help create a harmonious space between people. They work for everyone’s well-being, including your child’s.
#2. Your “no” means “no”
Avoid saying “no” unless you absolutely have to.
“No” does not mean “maybe”. And “no” should not tell your child ‘I’ll just whine or tantrum or cajole enough so that “no” might become a “yes” instead’.
Keeping to your “no” is easier if you use it as seldom as possible, and really mean it when you say it.
#3. Be consistent
It’s confusing to a child if we treat their behaviour as cute and funny one day and then we scold them for the same behaviour the next. It’s not easy for a child to learn all the nuances of social interaction. We make it easier for our children when we are consistent.
#4. Reframe negatives into positives
Setting boundaries can easily turn into a power struggle. Often, we threaten when we could offer an invitation. Consider the difference between saying:
“If you don’t hurry up and get dressed we won’t go to the zoo” or
“Let’s get dressed and then we can go to the zoo.”
Use your words to create an invitation rather than a threat.
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#5. Be aware of your body language and tone of voice
Our children are very tuned in to our tone of voice, our facial expressions and our body language. Sometimes we wonder why they are being reactive, when perhaps they are reading a negative reaction in the way we interact.
Remember that it’s not just what we say, it’s also how we say it.
#6. Consider the bigger picture
Children, like all of us, are less cooperative when they’re not feeling okay. Before you jump in with strong-arm boundary setting, HALT – and ask yourself, ‘Is my child Hungry, Angry, Anxious, Lonely, Ill or Tired? Dealing with these issues can often result in the challenging behaviour melting away.
#7. Support your child when a task may seem overwhelming
We sometimes think children learn to do chores by our insistence. But haven’t you ever been in a situation where tidying a room, or sorting a cupboard, seems so daunting you find every reason not to do the job? Or you start to do it and then give up?
Our children learn better how to handle tasks if we support them, for example “Let’s tidy your room together.”
#8. Avoid bribes
There’s a fine line between inviting cooperative behaviour and bribing. An invitation is the ‘natural default’ of cooperative behaviour. Whereas a bribe rewards the child for following our agenda.
Beware offering bribes because your child will quickly learn the art of manipulation and outsmart you on this game.
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#9. Set the example on the boundary
If you say to your child, “We’re leaving in five minutes”, then make sure you leave in five minutes. It’s easy to get caught in conversation and your five minutes becomes half an hour. However, if you don’t set the example of keeping to the boundaries, then your children won’t take your boundary seriously either.
#10. Set boundaries that are age-appropriate
Young children’s brains are still under construction. This means that they don’t see things as we do. They don’t always fully comprehend spoken instructions. They are more impulsive. If there are rules for everything, children will resist. Have as few boundaries as possible, and stick to them.
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Why Do I Need to Set Boundaries?
Setting clear boundaries with your child matters because they affirm your relationship. Every family member knows where they stand and what is expected of them, which means less stress and more co-operation.
Limits are something we set for our child’s wellbeing, and for everyone else’s – and that includes ourselves! We need boundaries around time, space and belongings for us to live comfortably together.
Do you want a clear plan on how to set and hold boundaries for your child? In my book BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t, you’ll discover the three signposts to mindful discipline. This means that you’ll have a tried and tested toolbox that will give you what you need to consistently set boundaries for children in a way that creates a sense of win-win, that creates a calmer, more cooperative family.
What is your experience of setting boundaries with your child? Which of these boundary tips most resonates with you? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!