How To Set Boundaries With Kids – The Ultimate Guide

parenting, Uncategorized

 

 

Children push our physical, mental, and emotional boundaries. It can be exhausting. And if we don’t have a habit of setting good boundaries with kids, then they push even more. It can be exhausting, and become really hard to know what to do, or where to start making a change. 

I would go so far as to say that after the big needs parents and children have – connection, empathy, and physical needs – setting healthy boundaries with kids is the runner up for the most important parenting skills. 

Yes, setting boundaries is a skill. Depending on how we were parented, we may have stellar skills, or we may be dearly lacking. Wherever you are, it’s okay. Start where you are. This is a great thing to practice. We are never going to be perfect, and mistakes are a part of the game. But when we lean into the process of learning to set healthy boundaries, two magical things happen simultaneously.

We get better at setting boundaries.

And, our kids begin to respond better to the boundaries we set. 

This means that setting boundaries and maintaining them gets easier and easier the more we practice. 

It is a huge win-win because kids need boundaries to feel safe, and we need them to feel sane. Healthy boundaries set the stage for more connection, and fewer struggles in the daily rhythms of life, so that parents and children can enjoy their time together more. 

Setting limits is a muscle and a practice. It takes time, patience, the right method, and a little extra effort upfront. But once the gears start turning, the results are a beautiful thing. 

I can’t help you with the time, patience, and practice you will need to succeed. But I can help you out with the Method.

So whether you have good boundaries, and just want to freshen up your approach – or you are beginning from scratch in the boundaryless lands where the Wild Things are – this guide will lay out the basic elements you need to get your boundary-setting skills polished.

The Boundary Challenge

Kids can be chaotic, and sometimes we have split-seconds to make parenting choices that serve us and our children. In these moments, we make flash decisions. And these flash decisions build on each other to create our parenting style.

As parents, boundary setting is among the most important and most challenging things that we do. From the most basic safety limits – it’s not okay to throw rocks at people, it’s not okay to run with scissors – to the complex – like the difference between rudeness and honesty – boundaries define the edges of our kids’ worlds, letting them know what is and isn’t okay.

Boundaries keep our kids safe, make them feel safe, and make it so they can get along with others. Boundaries also make it so we can live with our kids, without losing our minds. At least not completely. 

But mindless as we may sometimes be, we as parents have to set the boundaries, because kids don’t have any. And they need them

Understanding Kids and Boundaries

 

Kids need boundaries to feel safe. But they are essentially boundaryless beings. 

I think it’s important to dwell on this point. Kids don’t come in with boundaries pre-installed.

They don’t inherently know how to follow or set boundaries – their own or other people’s. They need to be taught. We are the ones who set, uphold, and teach the boundaries – for our kids, for ourselves, for the household, as well as those imposed by our specific cultures and society. 

It’s our job to not only teach our kids these boundaries – but also how to follow them. We do this every day, in many small – and not so small – ways. 

Our kid’s jobs are to seek and find the boundaries. They do this amazingly well, and with renowned creativity. They do this by pushing the limits to see what happens. 

A big shift for me around boundaries happened when I stopped seeing kids’ boundary-pushing as disrespect – and started seeing it for what it is – 

A Question. 

Is this a boundary? 

Is this a boundary? 

How about this?

Is this still a boundary?

Is this REALLY a boundary? 

When I shifted to seeing boundary-pushing as questions, instead of disobedience, I started seeing my responses as answers

And I noticed an amazing phenomenon.

As I got clearer on what kinds of answers I wanted to give – and how to communicate them – my boundaries became clearer. And as my boundaries became clearer and more consistent, the children in my care became easier to be with. 

They protested simple daily activities less and tested my personal and physical limits less. They listened to what I said and followed directions better. When I asked them to stop doing something, they were more likely to say “okay”, and stop without a fuss.

In short, they trusted me more.

They trusted that I meant what I said. They trusted that I was going to follow through on what I said. 

I still have bad days when I don’t handle things like I wish I would. But now I have a clear approach to come back to when things fall apart. I have a method. Having a method keeps me consistent and on track with my boundary setting. 

I’m not perfectly consistent every time I set boundaries – that’s not possible, and it’s not the point. I’m consistent over time, and that’s what matters most.

Having a Method 

A method is a structure we can use to guide us. It is something we can rely on when the going gets tough. And with boundary setting, the going is bound to get tough. 

Boundaries – setting and pushing – can bring up strong emotions on all sides. Especially when a change is being made to how boundaries have been handled in the past, which often brings up an extra protest at first. It’s hard to think rationally when emotions are rising, and that’s when things get messy. 

If we’ve taken the time to think through a boundary-setting strategy beforehand, then we can respond naturally in the moment – in a way that aligns with our principles and supports our parenting ideals.

I’m not suggesting we apply inflexible, mindless protocols to every situation. Just the opposite. We need lots of flexibility and mindfulness here. Setting boundaries is nuanced and will vary according to the situation, and the personalities of the humans involved.

There is a difference between having a formula and having a method.

Rather than a rigid formula, a method is a set of ideas that allows us to come up with creative applications – in this case for limit-setting. It supports us as we respond to new or challenging situations – like when emotions are flying and logic is in short supply. 

The clearer we are on our method, the clearer and more consistent we can be with our boundaries. Which makes for much easier parenting – and living. 

With kids, and boundaries in general, clear and consistent is the name of the game. 

 

The 6 C’s of Boundary Setting

1. Clarify

The first step of our method is to clarify our boundaries inside ourselves

No one can respect our boundaries if WE don’t even know what they are.

And kids need boundaries to be crystal clear. 

I’m guessing we have all experienced the results of trying to set boundaries before we know what they are. We flail. We argue. Our kids wear us down. 

We half-heartedly set boundaries and then go back on themI call this sloppy boundary setting. Setting sloppy boundaries undermines our credibility as boundary setters, teaches our children we don’t mean what we say, and sets us all up for a lot more arguments and power struggles in the future. 

The best way I know of to get stronger at clarifying our boundaries is to get used to asking ourselves a lot of questions – and to be honest with ourselves about our answers. 

 

Lean In To Questions 

 

When we set a boundary, we are asking our kids to make a change.

We are asking them to shape their behavior either around the needs of others – or to keep themselves and others safe. 

The more specific and detailed we can be with ourselves about what we are asking – and why – the more we can help our kids understand what exactly we are asking of them. 

Basically, the goal is to identify the exact behavior you want to change and then look through it to see if you can find the boundary that it is bringing up, which can actually be really unclear, especially at first. 

 

Here are 5 Question Areas to use to Clarify Your Boundaries 

 

1. What Boundary do I want to set?

    • What change do I want them to make? Get specific.
    • What exactly is bothering me about my kids’ behavior? 
    • What behaviors do I not want from them? 
    • What behaviors do I want from them?
  • In essence – What do you want to change?

 

2. Why do I want or need it?

  • Is this a matter of safety? 
  • Is this a matter of respecting others? 
  • Is this about me needing them to listen to me when I say no?
  • Is it that the behavior is not okay, ever? (it’s not okay to bite.)

 

3. Who is it for? 

  • Is this a personal boundary for the child themselves? (it’s not safe to play with matches)
  • Is this a personal boundary for me? For others? (I can’t let you hit me – or – It looks like your friend doesn’t want you to touch her shirt right now.)
  • Is it a household boundary? (I can’t let you color on the walls in our house.)
  • societal boundary? (It’s not okay to scream in the library.

 

4. When is this a boundary?

    • What is the urgency? Can you take some time to think about it, or do you need to step in right now? 
    • Is this a conditional boundary? (Just right now: I need you to be quiet right now because the baby’s sleeping)
    • Or a universal boundary? (All the time: We use our quiet voices inside – all the time. You can go outside if you want to shout)
  • Is it part of an ongoing issue that needs to change, even if this one incident isn’t a big deal? (That looks like fun to paint the easel, but remember, paint only goes on the paper)

 

5. How important is it?

  • How important is this to me
  • Do I really care
  • How important is it to my kid
  • What are their expectations? Is this something they’ve been looking forward to? (Big expectations can lead to big emotions)
  • What are my expectations? (Is this a new expectation that I’ve never expressed before, or something they are familiar with?)
  • Is there a safety risk? Is it dangerous to my kid, someone else, the pets? 
  • Is an important object at risk? The computer, the windows, your favorite shirt? 
  1. And the Ultimate Question:
  • Am I willing to follow through and impose consequences if this behavior doesn’t stop? 

This may seem like too many questions to think about at any given moment, especially if you need your kid to stop what they’re doing right now for everyone’s physical or mental health. 

That’s Okay. The point is to use these ideas as a way to be more clear more often. Ideally, we already know what our boundaries are before we open our mouths. However, life’s not perfect, we’re human, and kids are masters at throwing out the unexpected. So it’s not always going to work out this way. 

But what’s awesome is we can use these questions retroactively – no matter how our boundary attempts worked out – to figure out what happened and why. 

As long as we keep trying to clarify our own boundaries within ourselves, we are making progress

 

setting boundaries with kids

2. Commit

If you aren’t taking your boundaries seriously, no one else is going to either. 

Especially not kids. 

If we don’t commit, we don’t follow through when the going gets tough. And with boundaries, the going inevitably gets tough. Sometimes we need to set boundaries our kids don’t like, and they are going to be upset about it. So we need to decide ahead of time if we are serious. 

The one thing we really want to avoid is acting like we are going to set a real boundary, but then not, instead. 

Following through takes some effort, especially when we are changing how boundaries are set.

I find it helpful to remember that boundaries are tough to set and easy to maintain – Kids are creatures of habit, and once they get used to something, they generally go along with it (most of the time). 

Obstacles Vs. Boundaries

 

One thing that has really helped me is learning the difference between real boundaries and obstacles. 

If kids haven’t had clear boundaries in the past, then when they meet resistance, they push

Maybe this has been the drill: We say no to bubble gum at the checkout stand. But then our kid shows us how important it is to them (scream and cry, for example). Everyone is pretending not to watch the episode. We relent. We buy bubble gum. 

When repeated over many scenarios, this pattern teaches kids that no actually means try harder – which they are perfectly willing to do. That is not a boundary. That is an obstacle.

If our boundary behaviors are to set a boundary but not uphold it, then we are teaching this: I meet resistance – I push – the resistance goes away – I get what I want. Repeat indefinitely. 

Coming back to the Boundary-question idea, we want to give our kids an answer to their boundary questions that they know we mean. 

Now that’s not saying obstacles are always bad. There is a place for obstacles. Say your child wants a puppy. You want to make sure it’s not a phase. You put up a few boundaries to see if they are serious. That’s fine, you just want to be clear from the beginning, especially with yourself, whether you are setting an obstacle or a boundary. 

The place obstacles don’t make senseis everywhere

A note on changing our minds: None of this means we have to be perfect or that we can’t change our minds when setting boundaries with kids – or any other time. It’s okay to be wrong and to let kids be right sometimes. We want them to know we value their voices and hear them too.

Because kids see us as examples of how to behave, It’s important to let our kids see us being considerate, being willing to be wrong, and apologizing when we mess up. We just want that to be the exception rather than the rule. Easier said than done, like everything in parenting, but again, any attention we put into this pays off.

When kids who are used to obstacles encounter an actual boundary, they understandably treat it like an obstacle and try to get around it. 

Then, when they find out we mean business, they freak. This makes it even harder to uphold the boundary.

It’s a setup for a meltdown, burnout, and a bad time to be had by all. 

SO, be clear, commit. Is this an obstacle, or a boundary? If it’s a boundary, and you are serious about it, carry on to step 3. 

Note: If you can’t commit, take it back to the drawing board, and clarify further until you find something you are willing to commit to. 

 

3. Communicate

 

This is where the real finesse comes in. It’s also where being gentle with ourselves and our kids come in. We are going to make a lot of mistakes. And the easier we are on ourselves, the better. 

Gentle, kind, effective communication is a lifelong learning process. But luckily, some smart people before us have figured out many tips, which we can adapt here for our purposes. 

Teaching not Commanding

I think the most essential point about communicating boundaries is that we are teaching. Not commanding. 

 If we expect our kids to follow our directions like robots, we are going to be disappointed. We can’t control the choices other people make. That includes our kids. But we can teach our kids boundaries. And communication is the way that happens. 

The clearer we are with our boundaries, the better results we can expect. Since we’ve already clarified what our boundary is, we are in a great space to use clear communication. 

If kids understand what happens when a boundary is set, then they can use that information to make better choices in the future. 

Use Direct Language 

Kids don’t read between the lines. They need us to be explicit, and specific. When we set boundaries with kids, we need to use clear and direct language that tells them exactly what we mean

Kids take things literally. If there is sarcasm or cloaked meaning in our speech, they won’t get it – but they may sense a hidden meaning, which will stress them out. 

The more honest and direct we can be with ourselves and our kids about boundaries and the reasons behind them, the more they will learn what boundaries are really about. 

Communicate Your Expectations 

Kids love to know what to expect. If they know the rules and limits before there is a problem, they are so much more likely to follow them. 

If they don’t know what to expect, then they are set up for disappointment, or unpleasant surprises – and you are set up for struggles

When our kid’s expectations are realistic, they are prepared for what’s going to happen. They can go with the flow. 

Expectations set the stage for interactions. With boundaries, there are three main expectations to communicate. 

If we can be crystal clear about these three main points, then our kids will know what to expect.

 

Three Main Points to Make Clear

1. What do we want to Change? Be explicit and direct. Name the behavior. 

It’s not okay to throw rocks at people.

2. What Choices do they have? Tell them the choice you would like them to make instead of choosing to continue the behavior.

“You can throw rocks at the water away from people, or you can play in the sand with me.

3. What will the Consequences of their choices be? Tell them specifically what is going to happen in response to the choice they make.

 “If you can’t stop throwing rocks,           we will leave the beach” 

If there is time, add in WHY: 

 “Being hit by rocks hurts” 

Another example, for a toddler:

1. Change: You’re pouring water on the floor.” 2. Choice: How about drinking the water instead?” 3. Consequence: “Or I can put your water glass over here until you are ready to use it for drinking.” 

Why: “Lots of water on the floor might damage the floorboards.

 

Modeling

Kids do what we do. They absorb our behavior ‘round the clock and learn what is normal and right. They observe our actions and our words

Part of our communication is what we say, and part of our communication is what our kids see us do. 

When setting boundaries with kids we are modeling two things. 

  • This is how we respect others
  • This is how we respect ourselves

Both halves are important. As we proceed, we can look at how to consider both as we communicate. 

So, what kinds of communication tools can we use to teach our kids awesome boundaries? 

 

Positive Language 

Positive language means saying what you do want, rather than what you don’t want. 

Kids think in positive terms. 

In other words, when kids hear “don’t run!”, the loudest part of the sentence for them is: “RUN!”, which only amplifies the behavior we don’t like. This is especially true for little kids. But all ages (adults included) can respect our wishes better when they hear what we do want. 

Walk please!” or “Go Slowly!” will be easier for kids to heed. 

It’s okay to say what you don’t like too, but if possible, get creative to think of positive behaviors you can ask for. 

Instead of just: “Don’t hit the dog”

I might say: “Hitting hurts Rosco. Let’s be gentle with our dog” or, “would you like to give Rosco a treat to help him feel better?” 

 

Explanations 

I think every one of us finds it easier to cooperate if we know the reasons behind what is being asked of us. Kids are no different. 

It’s a matter of respect to give them explanations when we set boundaries with kids, and it helps them understand and learn. 

Sometimes it’s hard, but whenever I can, I always try to give kids an explanation for what I’m asking. Even with babies, who are absorbing more than seems humanly possible in every moment. It doesn’t have to be complicated or long-winded, in fact, the simpler the better. 

For example: “I want you to leave the kibble in Rosco’s bowl. He needs that kibble to eat, so he isn’t hungry.”

Empathy 

Setting boundaries with kids can be loving and connective, even if someone is feeling upset. 

There are some cool studies showing that kids actually respond better and cooperate easier if we use empathy with them. But we probably didn’t really need the studies. It’s pretty obvious that it’s easier to cooperate with someone who is on your side, and makes you feel like your feelings matter.  Intentionally using empathy in communication can make kids feel seen, heard, and that their feelings matter, which helps them want to reciprocate. 

Here are some simple ways to use empathy during boundary setting:

Use Observation: “It seems like you really want a cookie right now!

Be on their side: I wish I could let you eat all the cookies you want! 

Explain: But it’s dinner time right now, and I need to make sure you eat healthy food. 

Name their Feeling: You seem really disappointed.” 

Kids don’t inherently know how to make sense of their feelings or name them. Just like we teach kids the names of colors like blue and red, it’s also our job to teach them the names of frustration, disappointment, excitement, and so on. 

The skill of understanding and communicating about feelings is called emotional literacy, and there are a lot of awesome studies out there showing the many ways it helps us – for example emotional regulation and having great interpersonal relationships

I’ve found that as I teach children about their feelings, I often learn more about my own as well, which is a big win-win for me. 

 

Be Honest

When we adults are honest with our feelings, we are showing our kids that all feelings are okay. 

 When we say “That makes me angry” or “That hurts, I don’t like that”, we are modeling how to express feelings in a healthy way

Come Up With Solutions Together

This puts you and your kid on the same team and sets the stage for collaboration. 

You want to eat a cookie right now, but I want you to eat dinner. Let’s think of some solutions together.” 

Share your ideas, and be open to whatever they come up with until you find something that you can both live with. They might surprise you! 

Focus on Behaviors 

There are no bad emotions. And more importantly, there are no bad children. Just bad behaviors. 

When we keep our focus on the behavior we don’t want, then we leave space for all feelings to be okay, and help our kids feel good about themselves. 

 

More Tips

Whisper Don’t Shout: Kids will often stop and listen when they hear a whisper. 

Count To Ten – In Your Head: It’s tempting to repeat ourselves when our kids don’t respond. But a lot of time, they heard us, but just need a little time to process what we said. So, say it once. And then count slowly to10 in your head. Often, by the time you reach 8, you will see your kid responding to what you said. I got this tip from The Montessori Toddler, which has been my favorite parenting book lately – it has so many great ideas!

Give a Five Minute Warning: It’s hard to give up something fun. Giving kids a 5-minute warning that we are about to change gears can really help them let go when its time to stop. Also, offering a last turn or two can help. 

Redirect: Sometimes we can help our kids respect our boundaries by guiding them towards another fun activity we feel good about too. 

I can’t let you throw rocks. But I think it’s fun to collect rocks! Want to bring that over here and put it in my pocket?” 

Give them a way to make it better: 

“It looks like that really hurt Alex. Can you think of a way to help him feel better?”

Would you help me clean up the water?” 

This teaches kids how to make amends and repair damages, and also helps them reconnect and feel better about themselves. 

 

4. Choice

This is actually your kid’s part.

You’ve set them up to understand the situation, their choice, and the consequences. Now it’s time for them to choose.

It’s an important step, because if we never let our kids make their own choices, then they never learn how to make good ones. 

We want kids to understand what happens when boundaries are set. 

We want them to use that information and experience to make better and better choices for themselves and others. 

That’s where your awesome communication from the previous step comes in, and shines. 

If your kid understands their choice, and the consequence, the next part is really easy. You let them choose.

Then you just do the thing that you said you would do. You deliver the consequence. You follow through.

5. Consequences 

 

Consequences are the fulcrum that the whole boundary paradigm turns on. When we don’t follow through, then we’re back at the beginning – only worse. 

If we do, then we are teaching our kids that we are as good as our word and that they can trust us. 

Following through is a matter of trust. If we say we are going to do something, and then we don’t, we’ve undermined our kid’s trust in us. If we say we are going to pick them up and leave the beach if they can’t stop throwing rocks, then, if they can’t stop throwing rocks, we pick them up and walk away from the beach.

If you’ve been spotty about following through in the past – as we all have at times – then your kid might make a choice based on the assumption that you aren’t going to follow through on your consequences. 

Now is the time when you show them, lovingly and kindly, with the following step, that you are going to be following through now

Use consequences that make sense

Ideally, the consequences should be natural, logical extensions of the boundary you are setting. 

For example: “if you can’t stop throwing sand, we are going to leave the beach.”

Rather than: “if you can’t stop throwing sand, we aren’t going to get ice cream later.”

The boundary you want to set is: “it’s not okay to throw sand at the beach”. 

The logical extension of that is: “you don’t get to throw sand at the beach” 

Or, “if you throw sand, you don’t get to be at the beach.” 

Ice cream doesn’t relate, and using it as a consequence when setting boundaries with kids is asking them to make a confusing rational leap. We want to help them understand the natural consequences of their behavior so they can make good choices without always needing to be told

Understanding Consequences

Let the consequence be the consequence – not your anger. 

It is important to let kids know how they make us feel. That way they can learn emotional literacy. The problem arises when we use our anger (or disappointment or other negative emotion) as a consequence. Or worse, as punishment. Using our negative emotions to enforce boundaries sets up unhealthy emotional dynamics 

Consequences aren’t the same as punishment. Consequences should be there to uphold boundaries – not to punish. Being punished makes people of all ages feel alienated and angry. It doesn’t put kids (or anyone) in the mood to cooperate. Punishments are there to make the punisher feel vindicated, not to teach.

The role of a consequence is to teach. 

A lot of behaviors seen as “bad” arise in the first place because kids feel disconnected. So making sure that we are loving and kind, even as we follow through on consequences, means we can help our kids learn boundaries in a way that makes them feel safe and able to reconnect to us.

Be Willing to Leave the Party

What does following through when setting boundaries with kids look like? It can look like a lot of things. 

Following through can look like leaving the beach party when your kid just won’t stop throwing rocks, or asking the teller to hold your order and walking out of the grocery store with your kiddo – or, just walking out period. 

It looks like deciding that your boundary is important enough to uphold and then deciding that even if it’s hard, even if there are tears and whining and back-arch scream-crying, you are going to figure out how to uphold it with your child.

It doesn’t mean don’t be reasonable. Consequences are the step after you’ve been reasonable, and now you mean business. 

Here are some tips to help with the most challenging part of setting boundaries as parents: Our kids’ strong emotions. 

Let Them Have Their Feelings: It doesn’t feel good when our kids are upset. But unfortunately, we can’t fix everything for them so they are only happy all the time. It’s important to let kids know that their feelings are important, and we hear them. But that boundaries are boundaries

Use Your Breath: Mindfulness can help us sit with our child’s strong emotions without feeling the need to fix it for them. Take a deep breath and use your curiosity – notice how your body responds to their crying or incessant pleading. It’s okay. Accept those feelings. Focus on your breath. 

Offer Support: Our kids need our support when they are upset, even its because we are limiting them or taking something away. Offer a hug – if they won’t take it, that’s okay. Use gentle touch to keep them safe if they are having a tantrum. And offer authentic kind words and loving empathy. Even if they are angry and don’t show appreciation, if we are being real in our empathy, they will feel that they are on their side, and know that we are there for them. 

You might try something like“I’m here if you want a hug” or “If you want to talk about it when you calm down, I’m here for you.

Pay Attention

Pay attention to the patterns you have around boundaries with your child. 

Notice moments when you use boundary-setting language (stop that, I don’t like that, That’s not okay) and pay attention to how it goes.

Are you setting consequences but not following through? In what kinds of situations does that happen? What behaviors is your child doing that makes you want to give in? Which emotions are they showing? How about the emotions you are feeling? Is there a way you can sit with the discomfort of your child’s emotions

Are you resisting setting clear boundaries because you aren’t sure what kind of consequences will work with your child? 

What kinds of beliefs do you have around boundaries? Do you see them as healthy? As connective? As mean? As controlling

Check-in With Yourself: If you aren’t willing to commit to following through and upholding your boundary, then you should be real about that with yourself – and your child. 

What To Do When A Child Won’t Listen

It’s really frustrating when a child won’t listen, even as you try to deliver your consequences. Here are some tools to help with a child who’s feeling un-cooperative.

Choose Natural Consequences:

Natural Consequences usually end up being easier to deliver on than made-up consequences. You want the consequences to make sense, and for them to be a natural extension of the behavior. If a child is misbehaving out, then going home is a natural consequence. For a small child, you can give them a choice to walk on their own, or be carried, willingly or not. 

If a child is misbehaving in the yard, coming inside might be the consequence. If they are ignoring you at chore time in favor of a computer game, taking away the computer or shutting off the internet is a natural consequence. 

Remove The Privilege:

Aside from basic needs, the things that a child enjoys are privileges. If they aren’t using them appropriately, then it doesn’t make sense for them to have that privilege. 

If a child isn’t’ cooperating, its easier to remove something than it is to make them do something. For example, “If you can’t stop fighting over toys in the back seat, then I am going to pull over and take them away.” 

Establish Ground Rules:

Rules are so much easier to enforce if kids know what they are before there’s a problem. Kids also tend to respond better to “that’s the rules” than, “Because I said so“.

For example, I have a rule that if kids are fighting over a toy, the toy goes away for 5 minutes. I set a timer, or show them the clock. Imagine that two little girls are fighting over a My Little Pony Doll. The younger one grabs the pony, and the older one hits her.

What should I do? I could launch into a speech about how hitting and grabbing aren’t okay, or I could try to do timeout. But the girls are both upset and aren’t in the mood to cooperate, and one of them has been refusing to sit in timeouts, which gets messy. 

If I haven’t already explained my rule, I would say something like, “Uh-oh. I saw hitting and grabbing. It’s not okay to fight over toys. If that happens again, that toy is going away for 5 minutes. Now let’s take turns.” Then I choose who’s turn it is, and explain why. 

Then, if fighting happens again, I will ask for the Pony. The first time I do this, the girls will probably argue with me. “That’s not fair. She….“.

I might have to say. “That’s the rule. If you can’t hand me the pony, I am going to take it from your hands.

Then, calmly, I would. No anger needed. Five minutes pass. The toy returns. If the kids whine the whole 5 minutes, that’s okay. They are learning. The next time will be easier. 

Get Them On Your Team:

Ask for their help to come up with a solution together. In the pony example, I might say “There are two girls and one pony. Let’s think of a way to make this work for everyone. Do you have any ideas?

I’m always amazed at how kids will often follow a consequence they don’t like if they came up with it or agreed to it beforehand.

Be Consistent: 

The most important part of boundary setting. 

6. CONSISTENCY

 

Consistency is the heart of boundaries with kids. 

Once there is a good baseline of boundaries in place, new ones tend to fit into the mesh much easier. Boundaries with kids interconnect with each other, and kids tend to accept new limits better when clear and consistent boundaries are the norm. 

My baby went through a phase of biting me a lot when he was teething really bad. I didn’t know what to do. Another parent told me “Be clear and consistent with your message.” 

At the time, I was thinking. “Yeah. Uhuh. I need him to stop biting NOW.”

But looking back, I can see that my consistency changed the biting behavior more than anything I did each time. Consistency is how behaviors are changed. 

This is a bummer for me, because I am not consistent by nature. But it works. And like any skill, the more I try, the more consistent I become. 

The time you put into clarifying your boundaries is going to pay off now, and also in the long run. The effort you put into following through pays dividends. 

And the attention you put in over time will take energy now, but free up so much energy as time goes on, and struggles lessen.

I hope you found some useful information here. This is all stuff that I thought “Thank goodness” about when I learned it. 

I’d love to know how boundary setting it going for you. Send me an email, or drop a comment with thoughts, questions, ideas you’d like to share! 

 

SOURCES:

Brain Games For Baby

Positive Discipline

The Montessori Toddler

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen

Non-Violent Communication