Setting healthy boundaries for your children makes your life easier
It’s easy to think that by always saying “yes” to our children, we will look nicer, friendlier and they will love us more.
However, the truth is, children need boundaries. And if you don’t set some up, your life can quickly become a nightmare full of screaming, frustration, and tantrums.
Children are explorers; they are genuinely curious and love to learn about and understand the world around them. Boundaries are made for them to be able to do so safely. To children, boundaries are a safe line that protects them in their journey. They will try to push the boundaries, because let’s be honest, what’s across the line and what we are not allowed to do always looks more fun.
But here is what happens if you don’t stick to your set boundaries.
When children notice they get something they want with a specific action (ex: screaming in public), they will do it again. This is because they are learning cause and effect, and to them, these specific actions are becoming a “normal” way of communication.
When you are not sticking to the boundaries you set, your child will become confused. This invisible boundary line that they thought they knew and understood is suddenly becoming blurry and disappearing. They are losing their safety net and will challenge everything at a higher intensity. This could be exhausting for both you and your child.
So how to set up healthy boundaries?
First of all, the rules you set must be clear and direct. If you leave space for ambiguity or loopholes, your child will not fully understand. Ex: “Adults open the outside door”; “food is for eating, not throwing”.
Your body language must say the same as your words. To communicate the rules with your child, go down to their level, make eye contact, and have a neutral or serious facial expression. If you smile or laugh, they will not take you seriously, will think it’s a joke, and will do it again to make you laugh more.
Consistency is key. Children learn through repetition, so be prepared to repeat the same rule/sentence again and again.
You must follow through with the consequences. For example, if your child is throwing food on the floor, and you have said a few times, “food is for eating, not throwing”, but they continue, you should add, “if you are done eating, I will remove the plate”. And you need to actually do it. They will probably cry the first time, but this is where you need to stand your ground for them to understand. If you give back the plate after you said you would take it away, you are not giving them a clear message, and you will not teach your child that throwing food is not ok.
Children love when their effort is acknowledged. So when you see them respecting the rules, let them know you noticed and are proud. This will grow their confidence and encourage them to keep going with their good effort.
Understanding the meaning of “limits” allows children to be more connected to the real world and have better adaptability. It will help them develop their patience skills and maturity. It will also give them the skills to navigate future relationships, such that they are less likely to do things that make others uncomfortable.
Loving your children means teaching them the right, albeit difficult, lessons to better navigate life, values, and relationships. So next time you feel bad about imposing a rule on your child, remember you are building a safe space for them to grow and develop and make your relationship with your child stronger and more positive. By following through, you also give yourself a well-deserved peace of mind.