I remember as a teenager the rules, curfews, and limitations my parents had established. I also remembering wondering why my friends who had lenient parents always wanted to be over at my house!
At the time, I didn’t understand why my friends didn’t take advantage of the liberty they experienced. I didn’t appreciate that the boundaries my parents set were actually a sign of love. And I’m convinced that those boundaries protected me more times than I can count.
Having boundaries makes a child feel more secure rather than constrained. While he loves to have his freedom, freedom within boundaries is the best option to make a child feel loved. Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain this in greater detail in their book, Boundaries With Kids.
We’ve all heard about the so-called Terrible Twos. This is the stage where the child is beginning to experience some autonomy. She wants to start doing things on her own, and yet she still wants to know that there are boundaries that keep her safe. She actually feels loved and cared for knowing there are some boundaries in her world.
This is why the 2-year old (and other preschoolers) act out so much. They are testing to see where the limits really are. The more we let them continue to cross those limits, the further those boundaries get pushed, and the child will continue to test them.
Here are a few recommendations when setting consistent boundaries for your child:
- Decide what boundaries are needed according to the age of your child. While a 2-year old might not be allowed to pick out his own clothes for the day, we should not be setting out clothes for our 9-year old. Nap times, bed times, and screen times are all examples of areas needing age-appropriate regulation by the parent.
Give freedom within the boundaries where you can. What a child eats for supper is usually not negotiable—especially if there are many in the family. However, a few choices for what to eat for lunch or snacks may be appropriate. But too many choices only brings confusion for a young child. For preschoolers, keep the choices to two or three options.
Don’t allow choices where you shouldn’t. In our efforts to allow autonomy in our children, we often extend their freedom into places that should be reserved for adult decisions only. When attending church, all members of the family should go together, not given the choice to stay home. There are many house rules parents need to make for the culture and smooth operation of their family.
Provide follow-through. If a child stays within the set boundaries, he should be rewarded; and if he crosses those boundaries, he should receive a consequence. Follow-through is what shows your child that the boundary actually exists. Although some boundaries may be extended with a child’s age and responsibility, once established it needs to be enforced.
No matter how old your child is, she can benefit from a few well thought out boundaries in her life. Begin with more limitations as she is young, and less as she gets older. At first, she may not seem to appreciate the limitations you’ve set, but as she matures, she will realize the wisdom and love in the decisions you made for her.
Question: What boundaries have you established for your child that have made a big difference? Share your answer in the comments below.