What Happens to Kids With No Boundaries?

The inclusion of boundaries in family planning seems natural to parents. Surprisingly to many, some families forgo boundary-setting for various reasons, ranging from a difficulty in saying “no” to an outright neglect of parenting. What all parents should know is how the lack of boundaries can negatively affect children.

Decision Making

The most notable outcome of the lack of boundaries in a family is a corresponding lack in the decision-making skills in kids. When parents take the act of boundary-setting and hand it over entirely to their kids, they are essentially saying, “Here are the keys to your life -- good luck,” without stopping to consider whether their kids are capable of driving. The result often comes in the form of poor decisions -- decisions that would have not come to fruition had parents involved themselves in helping their kids make good choices. For children without boundaries, violence, lying and neglect might end up being the go-to solutions for life’s problems.


Child development specialists have studied the effects of boundary-less families. As Dr. Kimberly Kopko of Cornell University, author of “Parenting Styles,” mentions, one important psychological impact that arises from the absence of boundaries and parental guidance in decision making is a weak sense of self-control. Boundaries are the guidelines for kids, and the earlier they have boundaries, the earlier they can begin practicing self-control. After all, for most kids, boundaries are counterintuitive, or at least go against their impulses. A child who is familiar with boundaries throughout life will have been strengthening her ability to control herself; a child without boundaries, on the other hand, might find himself lacking that skill during a time of need, such as finding himself in a risky or dangerous scenario.


Kopko also points out that a child who grows up without boundaries is more likely to be arrogant. In terms of personality, a child who has been able to have his way throughout life will have a stronger sense of entitlement. For preschool children, entering school might be a shock, as suddenly obstructions appear. He can no longer wantonly act without consequences. Such egoism will make it difficult for a child to adapt to school, and later, to the workplace and society. Another researcher, developmental psychologist John Gottman, states in his book, "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child," that children who grow up with few or no boundaries in the household are more prone to act out in inappropriate ways due to an overemphasis on themselves and their emotions 2. For example, a child who feels sad might overestimate the severity of his situation or feelings and slide into depression. A child who feels angry might attach too much importance to the situation that made him angry, lose control and respond in a violent manner. Overall, this "family-instilled" egoism can lead to dangerous, selfish behavior that can obstruct social development.

How to Set Good Boundaries

Remember what boundaries are: rules to help your child control her behavior. The key word here is “behavior,” not personality, emotions or thoughts. As Haim Ginott, adolescent psychologist and author of “Between Parent and Child,” points out, children will naturally be childish, and parents have little they can do to change this 1. However, children should know that while even their most selfish desires are natural, they should not feel free to act on them. Parents should explain to their children why boundaries are in place. Often, using the standpoint of “if you were the victim” is useful. For example, if your child hits her peers or siblings when angry, creating a “no-hitting rule” and explaining that rule to her on the spot by asking her how she would feel if she were hit will help your kid put herself in another's shoes. This type of boundary explaining helps your child know that rules are for the fairness of all, not unfair restrictions against her.

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