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Establishing and Holding Effective Boundaries with Children

Lately it seems that the topic of establishing and holding effective boundaries with children has come up in all sorts of contexts. Whether I’m sitting on a panel for Screenagers, offering my perspective on holding boundaries around technology and social media, or talking to clients about roles and expectations in the home, this is a stress-laden topic for parents.

With this in mind, I offer here a few quick pointers for setting and enforcing boundaries.

1. Understand the “Why.”

Why did you choose the boundaries you have in place? Are they grounded in values that you believe it’s important your children adopt, or are they in place because others would judge if they were not?

Understanding your “why” is the foundation for establishing and holding boundaries. It requires you to figure out which family values you are dedicated to passing along to your children. The focus here is not on behavior (e.g. keeping a room clean), but rather on a value (e.g. demonstrating respect for what has been provided

2. Get on the same page as your partner/co-parent.

Triangulation is one of the greatest challenges you’ll face in trying to hold a boundary. If partners or co-parents don’t place equal value on a particular boundary, your children will see the cracks and wiggle their way in! Start with taking the time to discuss and reach a solid agreement on both what the limits will be and why. Prepare yourselves to talk with your children about the values-based boundaries you agree upon.

3. Engage your children in a boundary setting discussion.

When the adults come to agreement on values-based boundaries, it’s time to engage the children. If they’re verbal, they can participate. Be prepared to explain the what and why to your children and to engage in a discussion with them. Allow them to ask questions and share their perspectives. Be prepared to add, delete or alter your list based on your children’s constructive engagement.

4. Be prepared for push back.

Even after all this preparation and engagement, there will be a day when your child pushes back against the agreed upon boundary. When this happens, return to the “why.” This boundary is in place because your family agreed it supports a value that’s important to you all. Has something changed? If so, discuss it. As your children grow and mature, a natural re-evaluating should and will occur. If you stick to the “why,” evaluating whether it is still important should be fairly straightforward.

If, in conversation with your child, one of the adults is persuaded to change their stance on a boundary, table the conversation with the child so that you can have a private discussion to decide on next steps.

Children will sometimes assign an urgency to boundary changing decisions. When this happens, and it will, I offer some simple advice. If they need an answer immediately, the answer is NO. In this way, you encourage your children to come to you with their questions sooner, allowing time for the important discussion.

Establishing and enforcing values-based boundaries is one of the most important and challenging aspects of conscious parenting. I hope these pointers help you get started. If you’d like more information or support, I hope you’ll reach out to me. I’m here to help!

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