Most parents want their children to grow up strong, confident and free. In order to raise those strong and confident children, parents need to establish boundaries. Dr. William Sears, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, encourages parents to set clear and wise boundaries for their children for a wide range of reasons.
Children need boundaries for safety. Children, no matter the age, lack wisdom and experience to handle the world around them. Your 3 year old doesn’t understand why he can’t run into the street. Your 6 year old may welcome every stranger into her life, and your 16 year old may think that a license means he can stay out all night. None of these are safe situations. Explaining the boundaries you set helps your child to learn to trust the boundaries you set.
The world is a huge, chaotic place to a child. Sears points out that it’s every child’s job to explore the world. That makes it every parent’s job to set boundaries on that exploration. This gives the child’s world structure and focus. For example, a child who walks into a busy classroom with coloring, water table, clay and painting activities can be quickly overwhelmed. He may move from one activity to another without finishing or really exploring any one option. The adult can set boundaries, saying, “Michael, today you are at the clay table, and tomorrow you will paint.” This simple structural boundary helps the child focus on exploring one option. These boundaries work well throughout childhood for any child overwhelmed with homework, sports or even friends.
Setting personal boundaries teaches your child that she is not the only person in the world. Her personal boundaries are where she ends and someone else begins. Dr. Susan Miller, a doctor of education with Early Childhood Today, points out that even at 3 and 4, children are working on developing personal boundaries. Children who have no real understanding of those boundaries are far more likely to have interpersonal problems with their peers. This holds true as children mature. In addition, strong personal boundaries teach children that others have no right to invade their personal space. This may protect them from physical or sexual abuse.
Consistency and Negotiations
Both consistency and negotiations are important when creating boundaries. Children need to be able to trust their parents and the boundaries their parents set, so it is vital that parents are consistent when enforcing boundaries. However, children don’t need the same boundaries at 13 that they need at 3. Obviously, boundaries need to grow with the child. Talking with your child about boundaries is an effective start. That doesn’t mean that parents should cave every time their child challenges the rules. Instead, ask your child to give good, logical reasons why he thinks the rules should change. Consider the request carefully and seriously. Over time, you will teach your child to set healthy boundaries within himself rather than depending on others.