Setting Effective and Age-Appropriate Boundaries for Kids
We all know kids need boundaries, but when it comes to setting and enforcing those boundaries, it can be extremely difficult!
Setting boundaries with kids can be uncomfortable, especially if you haven’t had any experience doing so. We don’t want our kids to be upset with us because of something we did, but we need to remind ourselves that setting boundaries isn’t a bad thing – it’s necessary and can help keep them safe!
Children are always exploring their environments, learning and growing. If you think your child may be ‘too young’ to be taught boundaries, let’s take a look at why and how boundaries are beneficial, even at young ages:
- Develop skills to navigate future relationships.
- Form beliefs based on what they see.
- Know what acceptable behavior is and what is not.
- Children are less likely to do things that make others uncomfortable.
- Observe cause-and-effect relationships.
Teaching your kids boundaries is an important life skill, but now we need to ask ourselves, “How do we go about teaching our kids boundaries in a healthy and age-appropriate way that they are able to learn and still understand that we love them?”
Give clear and direct rules
By giving clear and direct rules, it leaves little room for loopholes. Clear and direct rules are easier for children to follow, and it can help them understand the rules a little better. Since young children are still developing their language skills, we should consider using age-appropriate words that the child will understand.
An example of this could be, “Please finish your dinner before you play with your toys.” These words are age-appropriate and clear so your child can understand the rules easier.
If you were to say, “Why don’t you finish your dinner before you play with your toys?”, your child may not understand because it leaves room for them to misinterpret your rules. When you set your boundary in place with no room for loopholes, your child will understand what you want quickly and will know you stand firm in these rules.
Consistency is key when it comes to enforcing the boundaries you’ve set in place. Consistency sets up familiarity, which establishes structure and discipline in your home. It makes it easier for your children to know how to stay within the boundaries you’ve set and know the consequences of stepping out of those boundaries.
Use appropriate body language
We all know that verbal language is not the only way we communicate, we also communicate through body language! We can apply our body language to our verbal language when teaching our kids boundaries.
When we teach or discipline our children, we need to give them appropriate eye contact, talk to them with a firm voice, and have a neutral face. Consider bending down to make eye contact at their level so as not to intimidate them. Make sure your actions reflect your words so your child understands that you’re serious about what you say, and they will more likely keep within the boundaries.
Be decisive and follow through with consequences
Your child may be upset with you in the process of setting boundaries – know that it’s alright if they are. Children need to learn what acceptable behavior is and what is not. These feelings and experiences also help children learn how to cope with negative emotions in a healthy way.
Don’t withdraw from the consequences, either. Consequences help enforce the boundaries you’ve set, and your child will learn that if they cross a line, there will be consequences for their actions. If you were to withdraw the consequence after your child crosses a boundary, your child won’t take you and your boundaries seriously.
Recognize when they’ve stuck to the boundaries
This is a great way to show your child they did something good! Give them praise and acknowledge their effort to stick to the boundaries! Children love to be recognized and praised for something good they did, especially from their parents. Children will be more likely to stick to the boundaries to get the positive feelings again.
Have developmentally-appropriate expectations
Know what can be done at certain ages and what might be too advanced for your child. This will help keep you and your child from getting frustrated with each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you don’t know what appropriate expectations are for your child’s age. Once you know the appropriate expectations for your child’s age, you can use those as a gauge for their growth! Track your child’s progress and let them know how well they’re doing! This will encourage them to stick to the boundaries you’ve set !
Being parents and loving our children means teaching them the right lessons to navigate life and relations. One of those important lessons is to know what appropriate behavior is and isn’t. Once they know what appropriate behavior is, they can begin to safely explore their environment and build relationships!