Greatest Parenting Struggles: Boundaries

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERATara wrote: “Knowing where to set the boundaries and standing firm in those boundaries. Knowing when to let go and let them be more independent.”

Time for another post in my series on the greatest struggles that we face as parents. Today we’ll take a look at the notion of boundaries. See the question above from Tara.

Setting boundaries is of vital importance in raising children. Boundaries have been around since the very beginning of time. After creating everything and putting Adam in the Garden of Eden God gave them boundaries.(1) They could eat whatever they wanted except for that one tree. When they stepped outside these boundaries they suffered the consequences. This boundary was not set to control Adam and Eve, but to protect them and to teach them the value of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. The same is also true with the boundaries we set for our children. They may feel as if we are just trying to control them or keep them from having fun, but this is not the case. So, how do we set boundaries and how do we know when to change or loosen these boundaries?

It depends. What boundaries you set depend on your family values, your children, and your environment. For instance, if you live on a busy highway, then you may set a rule that says the kids can not play in the front yard. However, if you live out in the country you may give your kids free reign of the property. It would be great if there was a standard set of rules for raising children. I think we would all buy it, BUT, it doesn’t exist. Think about the things you want for your children. Think about the adults you want your kids to become. Think about what it would take to keep your kids safe within your community and environment. Take all of these things into account and let them be your guide when setting boundaries for your children.

Be firm. Once you have set standards, be firm. The rules are the rules. If they break the rules there are consequences. Our kids need to learn this clearly and early.

Be consistent. If you set a certain penalty for breaking a rule, then you MUST carry it out. This means not making threats that you are unwilling to carry out. Don’t tell your kid, “If you say that one more time I’m gonna knock your teeth out.” Hopefully this is not a threat that you are willing to carry out. If it is, you need to seek some help. When we make such threats our kids learn one of two things. Either the learn to fear us, or they learn that our threats don’t mean anything. We want our kids to respect us, but we don’t want them to be afraid of us.

Be flexible. Ok, what gives? I just told you to be firm and consistent, now I’m telling you to be flexible. I promise I have not lost my mind. Here’s the deal. Life is complex. There are very few rules that can apply every moment of every day.

  • Be nice to your sister.
  • Don’t disrespect your mother.

These are rules that can always be in effect and non-negotiable. But, rules like “no eating in daddy’s care” or “do your homework as soon as you get home from school” might occasionally require some flexibility. There are times when the boundaries need to moved, flexed, changed or temporarily suspended. The only other thing I would say about this is that YOU as the parent need to be the one to decide when and where these changes will happen. BE INTENTIONAL in decided when to flex the boundaries.

Be ready for change. Let’s face it our kids grow up and they grow up fast. This means that the boundaries will have to change as they mature. Not I said as they mature, not as they grow. Many kids think that there are certain things that are just a part of growing up. They believe that certain privileges are owed them simply cause they have existed for a certain number of years. Age can be an indication of when some boundaries MIGHT need to be changed, but, it is no guarantee. Only you know your child. Remember that privileges must be earned and your child must be ready for them. Watch for signs that your child is ready for a little more responsibility and looser boundaries, then be ready to give it to them.

Loosen the reigns. As kids move toward the end of elementary school they are beginning to become ready for more autonomy. As they move from elementary and into middle school, they are defiantly ready and probably even craving it. So, GIVE IT TO THEM. Start by giving them a little more responsibility. For my son it was about taking out the trash and feeding the dogs. How he handled these tasks showed us how ready he was for increased responsibility. Take time to explain this to your new preteen.Explain that if they want more freedoms, they have to prove themselves more responsible. Many kids will jump at the opportunity to prove themselves to you. If they don’t then they might not be ready for the next step.

Give it away. Now that your kids have proven that they are ready for more responsibility and freedom, give it to them. I know that this can be hard, but it is a normal part of growing up. They will never learn how to handle responsibility and freedom if we don’t give it to them. Be gradual and intentional, but let them spread their wings a little. As they move from middle school to high school this will become an increasingly rapid progression. From dating to driving to college, before you know it they have gone from your sweet little boy or girl into a man or woman and there’s no turning back.

Hope this helps. I truly wish I could tell you exactly what boundaries to set and when/how to expand these boundaries as your child grows, but I can’t. There are just too many variables. I do have some thoughts on this and would love to learn more about you, your child, and your circumstances and to work with you to help set healthy boundaries. I hope that these thoughts help.

Footnotes:
1.) Genesis 2:16-17

Matt Norman

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2 thoughts on “Greatest Parenting Struggles: Boundaries

  1. Matt – Great post … practical advise. One of my favorite things to do when I hit struggles like this is to get help from other more seasoned parents. I like the way “Parenting Beyond Your Capacity” put it … its not about self help, its about GET help. Keep up the great work man!

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