Updated: Feb 17
Ughh. Boundaries. Does the word make you roll your eyes? Feel anxious? Make you feel like you aren't doing enough? I think setting boundaries for our children is one of the hardest parts about parenting. And no one talks about it.
My laundry list of why I think boundary setting for our kiddos is hard? One, when it comes down to it, sometimes it's easier to just give in in the moment. Path of least resistance often wins, especially with the kids being home so much this past year. Two, we want our kiddos to be happy, no tears, no hard times. And learning to deal with new boundaries can be hard. It can make them frustrated, annoyed, sad, angry. Three, sometimes I think we don't know what the right boundary should be, and so we just don't set any... or change the boundary as the situation fits. Four, the job of boundary setting is never over, the boundaries just change as they get older. Insert tears.
Ok, so why go through the hassle, the headache, the tears? I present to you, 3 reasons setting boundaries is worthwhile...
And if you need help with how to set boundaries, check out my 6 Step Guide to Setting Appropriate Boundaries for Your Child
1 - Inconsistent Boundaries = More Tears
If the limits we set for our children change from day to day or situation to situation, our kiddos are left with no choice but to test the limits.
Let's take bedtime as an example. One night at bedtime after reading your usual 2 books, your kiddo say's he's not tired yet and asks for just one more book. You go ahead and read one more. Then he asks for another. Initially you say no but he wines and tries to get out of bed, so you agree and read one more as a peace offering. An I'll-do-this-for-you-if-you-stay-in-bed-for-me-and-go-to-sleep-nicely kind of deal. You realize after he asks for a third extra book that he has now successfully figured out how to keep you in the room longer, and you say goodnight. The next evening, when getting ready for bed, you are prepared to stick to your usual 2 books. Of course, running off his success from the night before, your child asks for an extra book, saying he isn't tired yet. You tell him it is time for bed. He fusses, groans, tries to negotiate. It's not working, you are sticking to your guns. So he has to go bigger. He's got to see if he can get you to change your mind. He throws a fit.
The inconsistent limits are confusing. Some days he can convince you to read more books, other days you stick to your 2 book limit. Is he supposed to do something different this time to get you to change your mind? It only took a little groan yesterday. Maybe today it is going to take a full on tantrum? What if i do this... what will happen? What if I do that, what will happen? He's got to run through everything he knows since he isn't sure exactly how the situation will look today.
If your kiddo knows the limits. And the limits are always the same. And your kiddo tests the limits, and the limits don't change. And then he tests them again a different way, and they still don't change. You're on track towards less confusion, less anxiety, less tears. As soon as he tests all the limits, over and over, and learns exactly what to expect, no matter the situation, no matter the resistance, he can now stop wondering what the situation could look like. He can relax. He can accept the limit, and move on with his life. Consistent boundaries lead to less tears. Maybe not the first few days the boundaries are in place. But once they are established, there is no more wondering, testing, worrying. Just moving on.
2 - Provides more independence and flexibility
Boundary setting is not about flexing your authority or power. It is actually quite the opposite. Setting boundaries is empowering for your child. Children like rules (they'll never admit this or even realize they feel this way, but they do deep inside). They like to know what the limits are. Without limits, they feel anxious. We have established that.
The boundaries are the outer limit of what we are willing to accept. You provide the box, or the boundaries, and you open up a world of independence and flexibility within that box. The open box leaves room for independence, creativity, negotiation, flexibility inside the boundaries. Each family can decide on what boundaries or boxes are necessary, and what those boundaries, or the outside of the box, looks like. This also gives each family room to decide what independence and flexibility can look like within the box.
I encourage you to set boundaries you feel really great about and, in turn, encourage your children to flex their creativity and independence within that box. It will leave you all feeling pretty good. If you need help with how to set boundaries, check out my 6 Step Guide to Setting Appropriate Boundaries for Your Child
3 - Boundaries = Less Parent Anxiety
I mentioned that one reason I think setting boundaries is hard is because sometimes the boundaries we set aren't easy for our children to accept. No one wants tears or sad/angry faces in their home. Especially if we aren't sure if the boundary that we chose is appropriate. It makes it super hard to feel confident enough to be consistent if there is doubt about your boundary. (PSA - If you need help with this, check out my 6 Step Guide to Setting Appropriate Boundaries for Your Child)
However, if we get through the process of determining what to set boundaries for, and feel really solid about the appropriate boundaries we landed on, we can all take a deep breath. The kids know what to expect. The parents know what to expect. There is a plan for how to handle limit testing. There is support from your partner when there is limit testing. And at the end of the day, when you feel good about your boundary, and you feel good about how you handle boundary testing, and you were consistent with what your boundary was... your child is going to feel better, and you are going to feel better.