Setting Boundaries With Your Kids

There is a common misconception that boundaries are all about the other person.

Not taking responsibility for setting our own boundaries, and then blaming other people for crossing them is kind of like building a house out in the forest and expecting the deer and bears to build the fence around your property for you. It’s kind of insane.

Believe me, I’d know. I did it for years.

Admittedly, there are two types of people in the world: those who have a healthy respect for other people’s space and limitations, and those who see other people’s boundaries as goals.

Our kids are usually the latter, and it’s with them that we have to work extra hard on setting (and maintaining) healthy boundaries.

The fact of the matter is that boundaries are actually vital for our kids development. When our kids are pushing our boundaries, they’re actually trying to figure out where they are safe and where they are not. If they push against a boundary and it crumbles, it actually creates anxiety. There is tons of research out there that suggests that saying “No” to our kids is actually healthier and better for them in the long run, and yet it’s one of the hardest things for us to do. Because tantrums. Read more about that here.

And here’s something I wrote about how, when I finally said enough is enough and took my son’s Xbox away, he screamed and cried, but it changed my life—and how it took me ten years to learn the lesson I was taught when he was 11 months old. Have a read and lemme save you some time, k?

Here’s how to set clear boundaries with your kids (and everyone else in your life):

  • Decide what’s a “NO” for you and communicate it clearly
  • When your kids push against the boundary (and they will), re-state the boundary clearly, along with the specific consequence that will be incurred should they keep pushing. (“If you don’t stop hitting your sister, you will lose TV privileges tonight”—make sure this is something you can live with!! This is very important. If you can’t live with it, you will give in, and you’ll have undone all your hard work.)
  • If it happens again, clearly, and without emotion, state what the consequence will now be: “Now you will not be able to watch TV tonight.”
  • When the crying and railing starts, remain neutral (this is the hardest part). “I know it’s a bummer, unfortunately, I told you that if you kept hitting your sister there would be no TV. You kept hitting your sister, so now there’s no TV.” And then shut up. You’ve stated your case and you don’t need to explain any further. The more you explain, the more room there is for negotiation, and if you’re kid is anything like mine, somehow, somewhere he got a PhD in Negotiation.
  • Remain calm in the face of the shit-storm, and stick to your guns. The second you break down, you’ve set the entire process back to square one. Leave the room, do not engage. Make yourself a cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine. This isn’t going to be easy. If you’ve always backed down, your kid knows that all s/he has to do is keep pushing and eventually you’ll capitulate (believe me, I know, this is what mine does). The first time you don’t give in, the lesson is learned; suddenly they know mommy means business, and each time after this will be a lot easier. Trust me. I’ve been there. (See the story of me taking away my son’s Xbox above.)

Self-reflection/journal prompt:

What boundaries are you having the hardest time with? Who in your life is pushing super-hard on your boundaries? How can you be clearer in your communication so these boundaries might actually stick?

Let me know what you come up with and how I can help.

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Kate Anthony

Kate Anthony, CPCC is a certified life coach who specializes in co-parenting, separation and divorce. Kate's expertise lies in the areas of parenting, supporting children through divorce, creating co-parenting plans, and helping couples create a healthy split that keeps children at the center, not in the middle.