Kids Don’t Need Boundaries, Parents Do

boundariesI hear people say ‘Kids need boundaries’ but I think that’s the wrong way round. Kids don’t need boundaries, parents do. Parents just need to know where their boundaries are, and express them clearly so that kids know. Children learn about where the boundaries are through watching you live your life expressing yours.

So ‘You shouldn’t do that’ becomes ‘I’m not happy about that’.

‘You need to learn some respect’ becomes ‘I can’t listen when you shout.’

‘You stop that noise now’ becomes ‘I need quiet.’

Of course when it comes to the rules, ‘You’re not allowed to…’ is the clearest statement, but we can’t make rules about every single behaviour, can we? Imagine the list we’d have:

‘You’re not allowed to whine at me.’

‘You’re not allowed to ask me again once I’ve said no.’

‘You’re not allowed to wrinkle up your nose in disgust when I put your dinner in front of you.’

No, far too many rules, we’d never remember them ourselves. Best to state a few simple rules clearly, and deal with the rest by stating our own boundaries unapologetically:

‘I don’t like loud shouty angry voices, I can’t relax. I need a calm peaceful house.’

‘I need to know we’re not going to be late, otherwise I’m going to feel stressed.’

Our own needs are much easier for children to hear than an accusing ‘you’ statement, and if we don’t state them, how will they know?

Best of all, when you express your own boundaries clearly, your child just absorbs how to express her own boundaries with confidence. It’s a great thing for her to learn throughout childhood, in preparation for the teenage years when she will really need to know how to do that.

Stephanie Davies-Arai devised Communicating with Kids, a communication skills course for parents. She has four children of her own aged 14 – 22.———————————————————————————————————————————————————————
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  1. Lisa Cameron says:

    Wow, this is super insightful! Thank you!

  2. Tonia Lawrence says:

    What a difference these might make! I’m definitely trying this method.

  3. Stephanie, this is profound. Parental guilt and overwhelm is often paradoxically caused by over-meeting kid needs and under-meeting parent needs. Your suggestion is a good way of putting things back into balance. Thanks for your post.

  4. this is such a beautiful post and i enjoyed how it focused on the needs behind why we ask for certain thing; which i believe is a much deeper perspective :)

  5. So true! Great reminders. Mel #MBPW

  6. Couldn’t agree more.
    I always teach my clients the same thing. It is so powerful how a simple change in a construction of a sentence can make. Using “I” sentences is impactful.
    Also, not offending the child’s personality and keeping his dignity intact is key. For example, instead of saying “You are such a messy, disorganized kid…” Describe the messy room and state how it makes you feel.
    Good post.

  7. Hi Stephanie I like your post can I just add that for parents to have clear fair and consistent boundaries they must delete overwhelm, present a united front and be consistent. Our boundaries are normally only consolidated when we understand ourselves more and that means working out our values and parenting beliefs. I find it helps for parents to begin working out their values in life and then in parenting! When we as parents can become very clear about what we want and what we don’t want for our family (parents and children included) then we can work out what we agree on in parenting and support each other to develop strategies and parenting principles that underpin our values. The advantage is that parents then have a secure framework from which they set boundaries. When adults have this they no longer undermine each other, contradict each other nor do they subconsciously sabotage the other parents efforts. That in itself puts parents on he same page and removes a lot of stress for the family, it saves time and hassle.
    When parents create awareness of how they want to parent they can look at how their principles stand up against what research tells us is good for kids and they can look at the impact of their parenting style. Parents don’t have to be perfect it is more important if they can agree and support each other, (at least 30% of the time) provide logical reason for their views and create teachable moments. When parents are confident in how they want to raise their children they will include frequent discussion of their values and beliefs through everyday situations which influence children rather than prescribe want they want because when you demand something of anyone they usually push back. It is true parents must be in charge but I believe that rules must be negotiated and flexible so that they consider the age, temperament of the child and situation. I like a democratic style of parenting in which children are learning about life. With this they learn to negotiate, make good choices within a framework of the family values that apply to all family members. That in itself provides family boundaries. When everyone is clear about the boundaries parents have so much more freedom because they no longer argue about what to do, then children do not play one parent off against the other and in fact they have a framework within which they can make choices and that provides a win win situation for everyone especially with older children.
    So what you get with this is values, with clear firm boundaries, however their is some freedom within limits and logical consequences. Children learn that with choices comes responsibility. The parents manner can be firm but still warm, they can feel confident because their family values are teaching children about life!
    I hope this has been a helpful contribution and I wish you well as parents and as people helping each other. Regards Rosie Bell

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