Setting Boundaries and Limits

One of the most challenging assignments of being a parent is helping our kids learn to set boundaries and limits to help them guide themselves in a variety of circumstances.  It is the one part that neither the child nor the parent enjoys correcting.  The parent is often the one working on it, and the child is mildly complying or not complying at all.  Think back to when you were a child and your parents set limits for you.  What was it that you didn’t like?  What part of that aspect of parenting did you not understand?  I believe for me it was, “Why do I need boundaries and limits?”  or “Why don’t you trust me to get home at a reasonable time?”  When we are young, these seem like logical questions, but we remember how easy it is to get off track and lose our grounding in common sense as parents.  So, what are the general guidelines for Setting Boundaries and Limits?

Let’s say that your child has a relationship with someone that could easily take advantage of them, and you want to help them set some guidelines for the friendship.  First, I would suggest that they pick someone they would like to suggest a behavior change.  Helping them learn how to be assertive enough to protect themselves adequately from becoming a doormat or being mistreated is a lifelong skill they can use.  It requires intelligence about relationships, or relational intelligence is a more formal term.  It may be as simple as you are talking with someone and the entire time they are texting and reading emails as you speak with them.

Second, address them using an “I” statement instead of the accusatory “you” statement.  To construct an “I” statement, use the following formula:

  1.  I feel . . . (insert a feeling word)
  2. When . . . (tell what caused the feeling)
  3. I would like . . . (describe what you want to happen instead).

Here is an example of the conversation you might modify with a friend:

“I feel sad when we don’t make eye contact with each other.  I would prefer that you look at me directly when I am speaking.”

You might even add that you will do the same to put some of the ownership on yourself.

By teaching this to our kids, we are helping them identify a behavior that is bothering them on the part of someone else and directly, but not accusatorily, asking for a correction.  When kids learn how to set boundaries with others concerning their behaviors, they learn to trust themselves.  It improves their self-confidence and self-esteem and helps them stand up for themselves and effectively make their thoughts known.

We will pursue this further in the following two blog postings:

Setting Boundaries and Limits – 2 – Dr. Rich Patterson (

Setting Boundaries and Limits – 3 – Dr. Rich Patterson (

For a great article on setting boundaries, please see Setting Boundaries: How to Set Boundaries Around Yourself (

Yours for Better Parenting,