How to Establish Boundaries in Parent and Child Relationships

By Christina Shepherd McGuire
Presenting boundaries in a nurturing way produces well-adjusted children.
Presenting boundaries in a nurturing way produces well-adjusted children.

Children crave parental boundaries. These boundaries, when implemented in a nurturing and respectful way, provide the foundation from which children shape their behaviors. But a fine line separates being overly authoritarian and too permissive. According to Karen Friedland-Brown, a child development specialist, an authoritarian discipline style sometimes fails to establish a clear understanding, whereas a permissive style can foster manipulative behavior. Taking the middle road by teaching responsibility, encouraging communication and enforcing consequences increases the chances of raising well-adjusted children.

Teach Responsibility

Teach responsibility by first meeting your child's need. As she grows, allow her more independence to eventually distinguish between her needs and wants.

Make your child accountable for her actions. Reinforce negative behaviors with appropriate consequences rather than punishments.

Foster problem-solving skills so your child can learn from her mistakes. Let her reflect on the outcome of her actions and guide her toward remedying her behavior the next time.

Allow your child to work through problems on her own. Friedland-Brown suggests talking with your child about the options they have and the possible outcomes, and then promoting confidence in their decision-making abilities.

Expand Boundaries and Enforce Consequences

Expand your child's boundaries and do so appropriately. According to Julia West, a mother of eight and former counselor at Family Resources Inc. in Eugene, Ore., "Boundaries are not meant to be permanent. They need to be changed. They can be expanded as the child grows in levels of responsibility."

Draw clear boundary lines and communicate them openly with your child. Let her know your exact limits and the precise consequences for going to far.

Use your child's wants as important incentives. Reward good behavior with a special treat, TV time or other actions she covets. West goes on to suggest, "It is easier and more constructive to encourage children to stay within the boundary of acceptable behavior by giving them incentives than it is to threaten them with punishment."

Enforce consequences when rules are broken. Empty threats can reinforce negative behaviors.


Avoid blurring the line between being parent and friend. A blurred boundary creates an unhealthful relationship and makes it hard to say "no." Don't confide in your a child about your adult worries. She is not your equal. Beth McHugh, an online relationship counselor, confirms that this behavior is "Extremely detrimental to the child and exceptionally immature behavior on the part of the parent."


Continued empty threats can lead to severe discipline issues, resulting in wild children without boundaries.

About the Author

Christina Shepherd McGuire writes articles about adventure sports, fashion, mothering and natural living. Since 2003, her work has appeared in "Action Outdoor and Bike Magazine," "Teton Family Magazine," "The Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine" and several online publications. McGuire holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature.