Disciplining a child is a good thing but if it’s not coupled with boundaries it will only make a child confused. Boundaries set the limits and discipline is what should happen when those limits are crossed. Many times the consequences are enough to teach a child on their own. For example, if bed time is 7pm and your child refuses to sleep until midnight then you can point out that they are cranky to following day because they didn’t respect the boundaries. This is a great way to teach children that boundaries are for their own good.
Changing the boundaries constantly is more harmful than no boundaries at all. When setting boundaries be consistent and make sure that the line stays in the same place. If you slack just once, they child will see that the boundary is flexible and that they should push it constantly or try their luck from time to time. These sorts of boundaries can make life exhausting. Constantly negotiating boundaries with a child can suck the life out of you. Be firm. Set your boundaries and stick to them, even when it’s easier to ignore them.
When a child is very young they encounter their very first boundary which is the word ‘NO’. This word continues to set boundaries for them throughout their whole life. The one thing about the word no is that it should not separate the parent and the child. When parents disconnect from a young child after saying no, instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, they will cause confusion about God’s constant love. When parents pull away it sends the message to the child that they can only be loved when they are good. It is essential that children know and understand that boundaries are for their own good but does not affect your love for them. I constantly tell my children that I love them when they are good and I love them when they are naughty. My hope is that they will grow up knowing that my love is constant even though their behaviour isn’t.
Teaching a child to respect the word no is step one but step two is respecting the child’s no. If we want to have a clear no boundary then it needs to work both ways. They need to be able to say no and set their own boundaries in certain areas and we need to respect them. Not respecting a child’s boundary could mean that we are manipulating them. For example, if a child doesn’t want a hug or a kiss but we make them feel bad by saying something like, “Don’t you love me then?”, we are in fact disrespecting their boundary, manipulating them and showing then that boundaries don’t matter. Children learn more from what they experience with their parents than they do from what their parents say. Allowing a child to say no is just as important as teaching your children to respect your no. We need to teach our children how to say no and how to accept no. Of course, the exception is that a child cannot say no to something you have told them to do. Disobedience is different from allowing a child a choice.
Developing boundaries in young children is that proverbial ounce of prevention. If we teach responsibility, limit setting, and delay of gratification early on, the smoother our children’s later years of life will be. The later we start, the harder we and they have to work. – From Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud & Dr John Townsend
Teaching a child responsibility is the next very important part of setting boundaries. Your children should know what they are responsible for and what they are not responsible for. Boundaries are a way of teaching them to protect their hearts.
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
– Proverbs 4:23
We need to teach our children that they are responsible for the good that they allow into their hearts and to keep the bad out. They are responsible for the protection of their heart. If we constantly protect them and don’t allow them to feel the consequences of a poor choice then we don’t help them in any way. Mistakes are a very important part of learning boundaries and we need to allow our children to make mistakes in a loving environment so they can quickly learn how to take care of their heart.
Sadly, too many parents make their children responsible for their needs. They make a child feel guilty for making them sad, for example. A child needs to know that they are responsible for themselves and not for their parents, especially their parents’ emotional needs. Poor boundaries in this area means that children from a very young and tender age learn to make mommy and daddy happy, even if it makes their own heart feel unhappy. If this pattern continues children loose the boundary of self and grow up pleasing everyone else while not taking care of themselves. Children should never feel responsible for their parent’s emotions. Children should learn to take care of their own emotions, understand that they have the right to make choices and that poor choices have consequences. Children should not feel that their choice should be determined by how happy it makes mommy and daddy feel. Making someone happy is one thing but feeling responsible for their happiness is an entirely different thing and none of us are responsible for anyone else’s happiness.
So in a nutshell, set clear boundaries for your children, stick to your boundaries consistently, teach your children to respect no and to take responsibility for their own choices. There is much more to say on this subject and I highly recommend one of the Boundaries book by Dr Henry Cloud & Dr John Townsend. They have a series of books that deal with boundaries for all ages.
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