Setting Boundaries for Children

Why do we set boundaries?

First off, let’s explore the reasons WHY we set boundaries for our children. The most obvious reason, and the response I get the most from parents is, so that they don’t lose control. This, of course is a valid reason but it is not the only one… Children need boundaries because it provides them the opportunity to learn self-control, to have choices (feel empowered) and to learn what responsibility feels like. When children are given boundaries and limits it also gives them a sense of security because they become aware that they are being taken care of. Therefore to not provide children with any limits is to deprive them of learning something about themselves and to make them feel insecure.

When to set boundaries

Although boundaries are important, one also does not want to create an environment where the child is constantly anxious or fearful of breaking rules. Rather, boundaries should be set if and when the unwanted behavior is presented. For example, a child painting on paper need not be given the following boundary, “The wall is not for painting on, only paper may be painted on” because the behavior displayed is not the undesired one. If, however the child was painting on the wall and not on paper it would be appropriate to set the above-mentioned limit. So the best way to look at it is:

One may set a boundary when the boundary is needed.

How to set boundaries

There are specific steps to be taken when setting boundaries. These can be summarized using the acronym ACT

AAcknowledge the child’s feelings

CCommunicate the limit

TTarget an acceptable alternative

Using the above example, the steps above would look like this: A- I know you want to paint on the wall. C- But the wall is not for painting on. T- You may paint on the paper only. 

Another step may be added which is:

Set the final boundary to make the child aware that he/she is making a choice. The child is then empowered by the realisation that he/she has a choice and the consequences are related to his/her choice.

Thus using the example above, state: “If you choose to paint on the wall, then you are choosing to no longer play with the paint”.

The child may not respond to this at first. He/she may test you to call your bluff, however if you stick to your guns, remain calm and follow through with your given consequences, the child will learn boundaries quickly.