How many times have you been a birthday party with your child and noticed another child act rudely to other partygoers or even to the host? I can say that I’ve worked in my son’s classrooms for years and there’s always the same handful of kids that talk back to the teacher, roll their eyes when asked to do something, and have even defaced a desk or the public bathroom during the school day. There may be all sorts of explanations for the behavior, but the one that comes to the forefront is that these children come from families in which the parents haven’t worked on setting boundaries. From early on, kids need limits to feel safe and to learn how to behave properly with friends, at school, and when out in public. Setting boundaries gives them the security of knowing what is expected of them.
Why are setting boundaries so important? When children are brought up in an environment without boundaries, they tend to have more social issues and problems in life. Research shows that they are more likely to be followers who make bad choices. It starts with coloring on the walls of the bathroom with markers because their friends are doing it, and can progress to drinking and drugs with a little peer pressure in high school. Some parents are reluctant to discipline because they grew up in strict households or they want to be “friends” with their kids, however, setting boundaries is a gift because it gives them the security of knowing what is expected of them in various situations.
Loving and compassionate parents understand that setting limits with appropriate consequences is an important life lesson. The punishments or restrictions for bad behavior should be age appropriate and reflect the level of the act. For example, if a child hits his sister once, a night of no electronics or television is reasonable. However, if it happens again, then a week might be memorable enough to make the child think twice about ever doing it again. And, it’s also imperative to stay consistent when administering restrictions so your kids know you mean what you say. If your child goes out and misses curfew and you sometimes ignore the lapse in judgment, it will teach them not to take your words very seriously.
So, how do you go about setting limits? To start, plan ahead. Think about when the kids start to lose it or cross the line. Consider what your response will be and then act confidently in your decision to set certain boundaries. If you are weak because you’ve had a bad day and are too exhausted to administer the punishment, or aren’t sure if it’s the right thing to do after all, the inconsistency will cause more issues in the long run. Explain in clear language, and a calm, firm tone what the repercussions of the behavior are. If the child is young, try to get down to their level by sitting or kneeling so you are at their eye-level. A yelling, red-faced giant will only be interpreted as scary and diminish your connection with the child.
When all is said and done, setting boundaries will teach your kids to accept responsibility for their own behavior and the difference between right and wrong. It improves overall self-esteem as they gain confidence in how to make good choices and will contribute to their ultimate success in relationships, school and work environments.