Setting Boundaries and Limits

One of the most challenging assignments of being a parent is that of helping our kids to learn to set boundaries and limits in order to help them to guide themselves in a variety of circumstances.  It is the one part that neither the child nor the parent enjoys correcting.  Most often, the parent is 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 as parents, we remember how easy it is to get off track and to lose our grounding of common sense.  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 with whom 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 that 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).

In our example above regarding your friend who is always reading emails and texting while you are talking with them, using this formula, the conversation could go like this:

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 to 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 as well.  It improves their self-confidence and self-esteem and helps them to stand up for themselves and make their thoughts known effectively.

We will pursue this further in the next two blog postings.

Yours for Better Parenting,

Rich