Practicing Boundaries with Children
“We can’t go there. We can play anywhere in our yard.” My oldest child explained the boundaries for outside play to visiting friends.
“If you do that one more time, I am going home.” My six-year old announced to a next door neighbor friend who had hit him. He was hit again, and my son came home.
“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” A family mantra quoted to me by our five year-old after I expressed my hopes for an unknown outcome.
“No scream.” Instructions my 19-month old toddler tells himself after he screams, and I tell him as I place him in his crib if he chooses to scream again.
All of these are expressions of boundaries with children in the home or community. Boundaries are personal. A boundary in our home may not be a boundary in your home, but boundaries with children are a practice common to every household. Parents determine where their children play, whom they play with, and what they play with. These are boundaries with children. There are many physical boundaries. A stove is appropriate for cooking, but not as a jungle gym. The street is fitting for children with bike riding skills and safety knowledge, but not as an extension to the front yard for play. There are relational boundaries as well. The way we live leaves its mark on others for harm or good. How children speak to and treat their parents, siblings, and those outside the home are boundaries to be established wisely if we hope to raise children who bless God and others throughout their lives. Boundaries with children shape our relationship with our children, how they relate to us, how we relate to them, and how they see themselves.
Some think of boundaries with children as a means of adult control over children. Others think of boundaries with children as rules that guide expectations of behavior for their family. Boundaries with children are communicated expectations of family behavior. Boundaries with children are empowerment for living beyond childhood and into adulthood. When adults have boundaries with children, children learn what is expected of them, what their place is in that relationship, and life skills of how to be a blessing to others all their days.
How do you practice boundaries with children?
Boundaries with children must be expressed and practiced. When boundaries are communicated clearly children are told what is expected of them and the boundaries can begin to be practiced and practiced and practiced. Children will try to climb over them, crawl under them, go around them, or just bulldoze right through them. Boundaries must be practiced through modelling, repeated instruction, and befitting recognition when they are kept and not kept until each boundary has been fully embraced by the child. Boundaries that are practiced and honored with consistency are real boundaries. Everything else is just talk that leads to tremendous frustration, confusion, and a loss of trust in the relationship.
When do you use boundaries with children?
Boundaries with children are used throughout life. Boundaries must change as our children grow. They must be assessed and re-established for our children to grow into their fullness, but the use of boundaries with children remain for the life of the relationship.
Who are boundaries with children for?
Boundaries with children provide children with safety, a healthy sense of self, and skills for life long relationships. Boundaries with children are for children, but they are not for children alone. We are better parents when we have boundaries with our children. I really wanted to snap at my children the other day, but one of our boundaries rang in my ears and heart. All day I had told a child who barks at his brothers, “Gentle, kind words. We use gentle, kind words.” I was called to task by the boundary I had set. Thanks be to God I chose to live in self-control, and model the relational boundary we have set in our household. That is the thing with boundaries. When boundaries are kept, they become an instrument God can use to shape our whole family for His good purpose – to be holy as He is holy and to bless others because we have chosen His goodness.
A word of encouragement
Boundaries with children are not a simple step-by-step way to live. I have and will continue to learn much about boundaries with children in my failures to set them well and use them well, but boundaries are not fixed. Boundaries are set, and so they can be moved. Boundaries are learned, and so they can be unlearned with new ones learned in their place. May you not be bound by boundaries with children, but encouraged that life can be lived in love and peace with one another as we seek our way by faith, in hope, and above all the love of Christ.