By Niki Walls, LSW – March 24, 2022 –
Boundaries are something many of us struggle with. We all need to set boundaries to function and have successful relationships. As parents and caregivers, it is just as important to give our children boundaries. It is a parent’s job to know what their child is doing, where they are, who they talk to, and to ensure they are safe.
As much as kids need boundaries, they also hate them. Kids will test and push grown-ups to get as much freedom as they possibly can. While it may seem annoying and burdensome that children are pushing back, this behavior is actually essential to their development. Parents also want their children to grow to be independent and mature, but they cannot do that without learning through trial and error.
Parents need to be mindful of the line between healthy boundaries and smothering or controlling their children. Allowing room for failure and accepting it with grace is a huge piece of building trust and respect in the boundary-setting process. Parents should not be so strict in their rules or so harsh in their punishments that kids are afraid to be truthful with them.
When children do break the rules or push the boundaries, it is important that adults are able to keep their own emotions in check. If parents or caregivers are reacting to the extreme, children will get better at hiding things from them in order to avoid the harsh reaction. One of the most crucial steps parents can take is to build trust with their children and emphasize that they are human beings who will mess up.
With a warm and loving relationship established, parents can begin setting rules concerning their child’s safety. Children will begin to see that the rules are there for the ultimate purpose of keeping them safe. Along with safety rules comes society’s rules. Children will have more respect for the rules they see others following.
While it is important to set clear rules, it is also important to talk to your teens about them. As adults, it is important to teach kids how to be self-advocates and voice their needs. If children feel their opinion matters, they will be more likely to buy into the rest of the rules.
For example, let’s say that your child has a curfew of 9pm every night. Your child might come to you occasionally and ask for an hour extension on their curfew to watch a movie premiere or the end of a game. If you can be flexible and negotiate with them, they will have more respect for you and will be less likely to sneak out later or blatantly miss curfew. Especially as your children grow older and earn your trust, it is important to ensure your rules and expectations are reflecting your trust and respect in them.
By establishing a loving relationship and age-appropriate expectations, parents can feel confident that their children will grow up to be respectable members of society. Starting children off with a firm and supportive foundation will allow them the opportunity to grow into the best versions of themselves.