Clear boundaries are a part of positive discipline designed to teach children responsibility and self-control. If a child displays a lack of boundaries, firm and loving discipline will teach him more respectful and responsible behavior. The goal of discipline should not involve punishment, but rather teaching personal skills that will enable the youngster to succeed during childhood and beyond into adulthood.
Consider your child’s age and developmental level as you set boundaries. For example, preschoolers generally gain self-control slowly to the point of displaying more self-control by the time they enter school, states psychologist Anita Gurian, with the Child Study Center. By the teen years, a youngster should be able to display responsibility for actions and behaviors.
Set your expectations for behavior and then communicate them clearly to your child. If a child does not know your expectations, she will not know how to meet them. If you value honesty, respect and working hard to achieve goals, you would tell your child that you insist that she be honest, interact respectfully with others and that you expect her to apply herself diligently both at school and at home.
Explain what will happen if your child violates a boundary, to establish consequences. By communicating clear consequences, you enable your child to make informed decisions about behavior. She will know what will happen if she hits someone, if she throws a toy or if she doesn’t do her household chores, enabling her to decide whether it’s worth it to violate a boundary.
Enforce the boundaries consistently after you set them. It is common for children to push and test limits, so expect this behavior. This can be especially true for a child without an understanding of how to behave within boundaries. Children want and need clear boundaries, however, states the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line. With firm and loving consistency, your child should slowly learn that he must follow the rules or undesired consequences will occur.
Praise your child when she conducts herself within boundaries and limits. Notice these successes and call them out to reinforce desired behavior, advises the American Humane Association. You might say, “I really like how you used words to tell me how you were feeling. We can solve problems so much better that way!”
If your child does not respond positively as you strive to set boundaries, underlying issues might exist. Have your child evaluated by a professional to determine whether he suffers from a conduct disorder that creates behavioral and emotional difficulties, advises the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Never use physical punishment to discipline a child. Physical punishment can increase a child's anxiety and aggression while decreasing empathy, warns the American Humane Association.