How to Set Boundaries for Children

How do you set boundaries for children? It's important, when you impose them, that they're clear, fair, and proportionate. However, there are other aspects to consider as well. In this article we give you some guidelines.
How to Set Boundaries for Children

Last update: 03 September, 2021

Boundaries are the “rules of the game” of education. They allow you to teach behaviors and transmit values to your children. However, how do you impose them?

As a matter of fact, it’s no easy task making little ones respect boundaries. Furthermore, there’s no single way to do it. Nor is there one best way. However, there are some ideas that can help you. If you follow these guidelines, the boundaries you set will contain elements of teaching as well as being fair and reasonable.

How to set boundaries for children

How do you set boundaries for children? Are some ways better than others? Here are eight ideas to help you.

Start with simple boundaries

In general, children don’t tend to react badly to boundaries although sometimes they need time to adapt to them. However, if you explain them properly and they understand them, they’ll probably comply with them. Unless, of course, you’re dealing with children with difficult temperaments, behavior disorders, or who are extremely naughty. 

When first setting boundaries it’s best to start with simple ones. Then, you can gradually increase them in accordance with the child’s maturity.

Father putting limits on his daughter

Set clear boundaries

Another key idea regarding the setting of boundaries for children is that they should always be extremely clear. You need to explain to the child what the boundary is and what will happen if they exceed it.

This explanation must always be adapted to their age and developmental moment stage. Ultimately, the most important thing is that the child knows what they can’t do and why.

When it comes to setting boundaries, it’s important to explain to the little ones what they are (they must be well-defined) and what the consequences will be if they exceed them.

Promote reflection

When setting boundaries, it’s important to encourage the child to reflect on why they shouldn’t carry out certain behaviors. In fact, they need to reflect on their behavior and its consequences.

You can promote reflection in several ways. For example, through games, or setting an example. The idea is that, not only do they know what they can’t do, but they also understand why. This helps them remember the boundaries.

On the other hand, the child must also reflect on their behavior if they exceed the boundaries. In other words, when they’ve behaved badly.

Be firm and consistent

When you establish boundaries with your children, you must be firm and consistent. This means the boundaries must be coherent and logical.

For example, you might say, “you mustn’t look out of the balcony because you could fall”. There’s a clear boundary here, and an explanation as to what will happen if they exceed it.

Furthermore, as we mentioned above, you must be consistent. For example, if you explain to your children that if they exceed X boundary, Y will happen, you must ensure that you keep your word. Because, if you don’t, they probably won’t take you seriously next time.

Propose alternatives

Another key idea on how to set limits for children is to propose alternatives when it comes to their behavior. For example, say, “You can’t do X, but you can do Y.” What you’re doing here is promoting appropriate and positive behavior, which acts as a substitute for maladaptive or inappropriate behavior.

Keep in mind that children need choices. This is particularly important when you’re forbidding something or restricting their behavior. Furthermore, it’s also a learning experience for them.

We must teach children what they cannot do, but above all what they can do.

Practice overcorrection

Overcorrection is a behavior modification technique that consists of asking the child who’s carried out an inappropriate behavior, to reestablish the initial situation, or to “fix” the consequences of his action.

For example, if they’ve put paint on your sofa, and they know they shouldn’t have, overcorrecting means they need to clean it. This is a useful boundary-setting technique that teaches a child that certain actions have certain consequences.

In addition, it’s a much more beneficial technique than others such as punishment. That’s because, in this case, the child is taught something positive. They’re not punished or scolded.

Set fair and proportionate limits

The boundaries you set for children should always be fair and proportionate. If they’re not, the child may be confused or even reject them.

Furthermore, if they see the logic in the boundary, it’s easier for them to remember it and respect it.

Mother talking to her daughter

Take into account their age

Another key idea to be clear about is taking the child’s age into account. Ideally, the boundaries should be the kind that they can understand and that are relevant to their evolutionary stage.

Thee are certain boundaries that are relevant to each evolutionary stage of development. They will change as the child gets older.

Do you find it difficult to set boundaries? What do you find that helps you? Obviously, every family has their own way of educating their children. Nevertheless, boundaries are a universal benefit for everyone.

Boundaries provide children with guidelines. They’re like a compass that tells them where to go, and where not to.

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