Boundaries and expectations are important parenting tools

Boundaries and rules for children are not meant to rein them in; but rather to help them grow up healthy!

Setting limits for children is challenging for many parents today. Most parents begin saying “no” to children shortly after they’re born and continue to use the word “no” as a restriction for the next eighteen years. Some parents make-up rules as they go through each day and as their children grow through each developmental stage with seemingly no plan in mind. The rule just seemed right at the time.

In the Nurturing Parenting Community Based Education Program, author Stephen Bavolek writes that “the purpose of family rules is for parents and children to establish consistent guidelines that will help everyone know what is and what isn’t expected of them”. Setting boundaries and expectations for children can assist in building life skills that include; patience, problem solving, resourcefulness, responsibility and self-discipline. Consider the following guidelines when faced with the challenge of setting boundaries and expectations.

  • Plan ahead to prevent problems! Thinking through a situation and all of the potential pitfalls can save a lot of aggravation later. Planning will make the difference. Pack a change of clothes for a toddler, carry healthy snacks when traveling with a preschooler, and discuss routes to school, homework and sleepovers. Talk with your teens before they attempt a new activity to make certain you both understand the expectations for behavior.
  • Build success into your expectations. Provide a safe, designated play area for infants and toddlers. Have easily accessible locations where children are expected to put away their clothes and toys. Provide an alarm clock for that teen who complains that you forgot to get her up this morning. Remember one size does not fit all. Boundaries are expanded as children develop and mature and gain new skills.
  • Be certain that expectations are clear and positive. Concentrate on do’s as opposed to don’ts. Explain the ‘why’ behind a limit. Have children who are verbal repeat what you have asked them to do and why. Break large tasks into small pieces for younger children. Keep expectations simple and easy to understand!
  • Give choices. Children will grow into adults who will need to make lots of choices in life. Start teaching children how to make choices by offering lots of them. Talk to children about what clothes are appropriate for play and which are for school. Discuss healthy foods and offer choices that respect a child’s individuality. Give children options for activities; setting parameters that fit the family’s budget, routine and family guidelines.
  • Model the behavior you’d like to see. Children will copy the adults in their lives. Set a good example! Model saying the word ‘no’ when you’re asked to do something that would overtax your schedule.
  • Expect set-backs and testing. We all learn from our mistakes. Children will challenge the rules and sometimes forget the rules, especially if they have more than one set of rules to remember (home, day-care, school). Gently remind them and start over. Let children suffer the consequences that come with breaking rules.

Setting boundaries is an important tool for families that can aide in the development of children who will grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults. The Search Institute has developed 40 Developmental Assets for different ages and stages of development that can guide parents in setting up boundaries and rules. For help in setting boundaries that are specific for pre-school children you can refer to worksheets and material that are available from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning and eXtension.

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