Boundaries and Limits with Kids
By Amber Hillier
All parents love to see their children happy, they want their children to avoid hurt and heartbreak in their lives. To avoid this hurt, parents often shield their kids from the harsh realities of the world. I am not saying this is a bad thing, I absolutely agree that there are some terrible things going on in the world that a first grader does not need to know. But as an adult who has the job of helping kids to eventually grow up to be successful adults themselves, we need to make sure they are equipped to face the world and handle these hardships. If we put them in a bubble and never let them experience the pain that comes with a broken heart because their goldfish died or a fight with a friend when they come across these problems in much more serious quantities as adults they will not know how to handle them. If they are never told no, they will grow up expect the world to be handed to them. While it might be easier when they are five to give in and not have to deal with the tantrum that comes with saying “no”, it is not doing them any help in the long run. “You want to set clear boundaries when they are young, because if they get to preteens or teens, and still don’t know where they stand on issues at home, they may push the limits as far as jail, drugs, or crime.” (Reeves, Pg. 35)
“Children do not possess the wisdom for protecting and preserving their own lives. They do not know right from wrong, dangerous from safe, good from better, life from death. They think not about immediate gratification” (Cloud, Townsend, Pg.19). A child is not emotionally ready to take on the responsibility of making all their own choices, this is why they have parents. A child is focused on the now, they are unable to see past what is going on at that moment in time. It is not fair to them to let them make their own decisions, and then become upset when they make the incorrect ones. We know that it is important for kids to eat healthy, but if given the option most kids would pick a cookie over peas any day, they need the adults who can see past that moment in time to direct them in picking the choice that will be best for them 5 years down the road.
Galatians 4:2 tells us that, “The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.” The bible tells us that children are being entrusted to us to take care of until an appropriate time, this time, is not when they are still small children, it is after they have been brought up in a household that is preparing them for their future. The bible tells us time and time again how important it is to raise children with disciple and guidance. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Part of setting boundaries for kids is modeling the behavior you want from them. If you are teaching them these ways and also living them out in your daily life they are much more likely to stick with them as they grow. If they are just expected to know it without it being taught, there is a slim chance that they will live it out as a child and an even smaller chance that they will follow it as an adult.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The Message version words it by saying “Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” You will have a much more hands influence in your children’s life by setting boundaries, you will be right there with them during the growing process. If your child is allowed to do as they please parents are often aware of issues when they are left cleaning up a mess. If a parent is there and an active part of the training process they will start to see small corrections that need to be made, often catching this before it turns into a bigger mess. Kids are going to make mistakes, it is part of growing up and learning. It would be so much easier to help correct these mistakes as they were happening on a smaller scale than waiting until it was too late to do anything. By trying to prevent your child from hurt, you will inadvertently be causing more.
“Your goal for your child is that he will gradually learn that what falls within his boundaries-feelings, attitudes, and behaviors- are his problem, not someone else’s” (Cloud, Townsend, Pg. 27). Part of having a child who becomes a mature adult is teaching a child reasonability. This includes responsibility for his actions, along with responsibility for his stuff. When a child is not taught proper boundaries they do not know how to process their own emotions, let alone how to take responsibility for them. Toddlers are a great example of this. They make quick decisions, and then don’t know how to take responsibility for the aftermath of their choice. These toddlers are counting on adults around them to teach them how to get past this point and learn how to handle the choices that they make and to eventually make better ones. When a child is given freedom to do as they please at all times, they are not taught this. They get stuck in that place of toddler emotions. Galatians “6:5 says, “For each will have to bear his own load.” We will have to take responsibility for the choices we make, it is not fair to not teach a child this, and then send them into the world. The transition into adulthood is already a hard one, it will be even harder on those who emotionally are still a small child.
“Children need to learn the value of a dollar…they need to understand what it means to sacrifice and go without the things they want.”(Clinton & Sibcy, Pg.86). There is no way a child will be responsible with their things if they do not understand the value of it, this will just lead to a spoiled child. If an adult is giving into a child all the time and buying them whatever they want that child is going to miss out on a huge asset that they will need later in life. They will not learn how to compromise. For example, when I was 12 I wanted my ears double pierced, all the other girls were getting it done, so I wanted it too. When I asked my parents they told me to prove to them that I was mature enough to take care of my ears. I ended up writing them a persuasive essay and picking up some extra chores to help pay for it. I got my ears pierced and my parents got a clean house and were satisfied that I could take care of them. What I also learned was how to compromise. Ultimately, yes I got what I wanted, but I had to be patient and work for it. I was taught a much bigger lesson than how to clean a piercing, I learned how to talk to people and come up with a solution that satisfied everyone. This is a skill that crucial to entering adulthood. If my parents had just taken me to the mall right when I asked I would have missed this lesson. I also knew that if I stopped caring for my ears the earrings would be removed. My mom checked to make sure I was keeping up with it, but ultimately it was my responsibility to make sure they did not become infected. I had to take care of my own property.
Buying a child whatever they want, whenever they want it will lead them to a sense of entitlement. They will think that they world owes them everything, solely because they are alive. This might work for their first few years of life, but as soon as they are old enough to make their own friends they will start to suffer for it. Kids are smart and social. They don’t want to play with the kid that is bossy and throws a fit every time something doesn’t go their way. They will not be able to communicate with others, and their friendships will end. Parents cannot fight every battle for their kids, they have to learn how to solve their own fights and talk to others. If a parent never teaches a child that a friendship is both parties admitting that they are wrong at times, how are they going to learn it? This will also lead to a child becoming possessive of other people’s stuff, they will quickly realize other kids have toys that they want, that sense of entitlement will kick in and they will try and take what they truly believe should belong to them. This will soon turn into a power war that the entitled child feels they have to win.
As a child grows, they need to hear that they are loved, that they are good enough, and that they are skilled. This does not mean that they need to think they are the best at everything. One of my favorite things that my mom told me growing up was, “God gave you so many talents, this just might not be one of them”. Was I sad for a few days that I was not the best singer? Of course, but I had coping skills and I knew that there were other things that I could do and that I was good at. Did I hate my mother? Not at all, I appreciated her honesty, and I knew that when she told me I was good at something it was because she genuinely meant it. If a child grows up thinking that they can do no wrong, which makes for a very hard person to get along with, but it can also lead a child to think that they are invincible.
When a child is never taught the world no, they are led to believe that rules don’t apply to them. When a child thinks this it can start to get dangerous. Rules are there for a reason, but this child will not know that. They will think all the other kids are not allowed to go off alone, but I am. This can lead to a serious tragedy that is totally unavoidable. This is not to say that this will happen to every kid, but why would someone want to risk that in order to keep his or her child happy for the second? I have kids that live in my neighborhood who love to ride their bikes, the problem is half of them have not been taught bike safety. They dart out into the street without looking and have almost been hit numerous times, all while the parents are standing right there. The kids see the parents yell at drivers for almost hitting their kids, but the kids are never taught how to be safe. This has led them to believe that they can ride whenever and however they want. The parents think that their child has the right to ride without rules, which have now been passed on to their children. This is making it a very dangerous game for the kids. This is clearly an extreme, but it shows what happens when I child is not given boundaries for their own safety.
One thing that kids want to know is where they stand. It’s not only that they want to know this, it’s that they need to. By knowing where they stand they know what it expected of them. Adults feel the same way, “Stress is eliminated when people know exactly what is expected of them. Once everything is clear, they can settle down and just do their job” (Reeves, 35). Adults expect to know what their job is, and all the details that go along with it. Kids feel the same, the level of stress drops considerably when there are clear-cut rules for what it expected. The battles will decrease because the rules are not changing every day. Kids like consistency, and that is what boundaries provide them with. Kids will be much more able to be flexible later if they have had strong consistency because they know that this is either something unusual and it won’t happen often, or it will become a new routine.
“By the time a kid turns 13, they have been watching, observing and scientifically testing their parents”(Stewart, Pg.1). Kids spend their entire childhood watching their parents, they find out what system works, which parent to go to for what they want, when the best time to ask for something is, kids are smart. When a child is testing the boundaries they are seeing what their parent’s reaction will be. “Limits and Boundaries are the framework for freedom and creativity. Children learn freedom only when clear and reasonable limits are set. Otherwise, they don’t feel safe.” (Klein, pg. 241). All that any child wants it to feel safe, by letting them know that they are in a safe environment, they will be so much more willing to try something new when they know their parents will stop them when it becomes dangerous. These children are the ones whose parents have guidelines to keep them safe, and the kids know it. They are free to explore because they know that as soon as they have gone too far they will be told. Kids want to know that they are being kept safe if you are giving them free reign over everything odds are they have gotten into some sort of trouble and they will remember that the next time they try and explore. This will also teach the toddler who was told “no” but did it anyway. They will remember them next time they are told “no” that it is for a reason.
By setting boundaries kids will also see what healthy conflict looks like. “If a family conflict is constructive, it can help children see the need for rules and standards” (Mortorell, Pg.398). Conflict is something that is unavoidable in life, but it is so important that kids be taught to handle it in a healthy manner. They will struggle in future marriages, jobs, and friendships if they are unable to resolve it correctly. If limits are not established they will never know when conflict arises, and they will never understand that they are in the wrong.
By telling you child no you are teaching them how to handle negative things. It is not a parents job to keep their child happy all the time, it is the parent’s job to give them the tools that they will need when there is negativity. One of my closest friends growing up had a mom that wanted nothing more than to be her friend, I was extremely jealous because my parents always told me that they were my parent first and friend second. My friend had no rules, she did as she pleased from a very young age. The older we got, the harder her life got. She had no skills to cope with any issue she had in school and didn’t know how to talk to any teacher, and this all stemmed back to her mom wanting to keep her child happy more than she wanted to say no.
Punishment is not a bad thing, it is not wrong to tell your child no, and give limits for their actions. It will not cause them to lose their curiosity, it will grow it. It will also teach them how to respect authority and adults. Children are not small adults, and they should not be treated as them. They are still learning what is acceptable, and what is not. They need to be taught how to speak to people in a respectful way, and that just because a thought pops into your head, it is okay to say it. We all have stories of the funny things that toddlers have said, its adorable when they are two, this same behavior is not so cute when it is coming from a 16-year-old who has a problem with authority. By giving them these tools young, you are helping them to have an easier life later. Proverbs 13:24 says “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” It is biblical to discipline. This tells a child that you love them so much that you are giving them this punishment so that they remember that this behavior is not something that is not healthy or safe for them to be doing. It will not make your child hate you, or give them the indication that you don’t love them.
Setting boundaries for kids also applies in the area of time management. If a child is never taught how to plan ahead time wise she will be unprepared for school work, and eventually deadlines at work and bill payments. By giving children tasks to be done at certain times, along with consequences to not having them done, and then not micromanaging them to make sure it gets done, this forces a child to learn, sometimes the hard way. For most kids, it only takes once of twice to learn that their parents are serious when they say clean your room or you don’t get to spend time with your friends. For a child who has never been taught this, it becomes extremely difficult when they have to have something done for the first time and they don’t know how to do it.
Kids that grow up without limitations or told no are not bad kids, in fact, the usually crave attention and praise because they don’t know the feeling of self-satisfaction because they have no idea what is expected of them. They look to others to see their own worth, but these kids genuinely have no idea that what they are doing is wrong. I was a very bossy child, I had no idea that I was bossy until someone pointing out to me, not in a mean way, but in a loving way because they wanted to help me. By doing this with these kids, and starting to issue small corrections in their behavior they can learn how to control their emotions, deal with negativity, become responsible, and how to have a healthy relationship. It will just be more difficult than if they had been brought up in that environment. God has a plan for everyone’s life and that child, who is a little more difficult, and turn into a difficult adult is not excluded, will it make it harder for them to be accepted? Yes, but it also gives those of us who have not experienced that hardship that they had to grow up in a chance to model how they should be acting. Parents do not realize that they are hindering their child by raising them like this, they genuinely think that they are giving them a happy and carefree childhood. This is why as a parent it is really important to make sure you look into the choices you are making, and research to see if what negative consequences there could be. Kids are already going to have hard struggles ahead of them, it is our job to make it as easy as possible.
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- Reeves, Ananda Elyce. “Setting clear boundaries: letting kids know where they stand.” LILIPOH Summer 2009: 35+. Academic OneFile. Web. 10 May 2015.
- Clinton, T., & Sibcy, G. (2006). Loving Your Child Too Much. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
- Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1998). Boundaries with Kids. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Klein, T. P. (2014). How Toddlers Thrive. New York, NY: Touchstone.
- Martorell, G., Papalia, D. E., & Feldman, R. D. (2014). A Child’s World:Infancy through Adolescence (Thirteenth ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
- Parallel Study Bible. (2008). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Stewart, P. (2013). Naughty kids test boundaries. The Observer, 32-33.