Science shows that kids need healthy boundaries to thrive—here’s how to set limits in a loving, effective way.
As parents, it’s often easier to say “yes” to our children than to say “no.” We worry that if we’re too harsh on them, they will grow up feeling unloved and unworthy and rebel. On the other hand, being permissive has its drawbacks — children can grow up to be entitled, are more likely to engage in risky behavior, and become less academically motivated than their peers.
The key is to strike a balance — to set boundaries but in a way that holds our children accountable without damaging them. “Have the guts to say ‘no’ to your children,” stresses psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Queena Lee-Chua.
Here are some ways parents can set healthy, loving boundaries with kids:
Explain which inappropriate behavior you are addressing.
Saying “Stop that!” may not be enough. Your child may not know what “that” is. Be specific. “Jane, please do not yell and scream while I talk to you.”
Explain why the behavior is inappropriate.
Again, don’t assume your child knows why his/her behavior is unacceptable. Is she disturbing others? Is he being disrespectful? Address the behavior clearly, and teach what is and is not acceptable.
Give reasonable choices with consequences.
Rather than issuing an ultimatum (“do this, or else”), tell your child what his/her choices are and what the consequences of those choices will be. Ultimatums often lead to power struggles because no one wants to be forced to do something. By providing choices with consequences, you are admitting that you cannot force your child’s decision. You can, however, determine what the consequences of his/her choices will be.
Generally, it’s best to allow your child a few minutes to make his/her decision. Remember that if he/she is upset, he/she may not be thinking clearly. It may take him/her a little longer to think through what you’ve said.
Be prepared to enforce your consequences.
Limit setting is meaningless if you don’t consistently enforce the consequences you’ve set. For that reason, it’s important to set consequences that are reasonable, enforceable, within your authority, and within the rules and routine of your family. Limits are powerful tools for teaching appropriate behavior. Their purpose is not to show who’s boss, but to give your child guidance, respect, and a feeling of love and security.
As you set these limits, remember to nurture the relationship with your child by showing affection, listening, having fun and laughing together, getting to know him/her, and spending time together.
Read the entire series from the interview with Dr. Queena Lee-Chua here: