Mental health counselor Debbie Pincus reminds us that when we know where we stand as parents, it is easier for us to figure out what we will and won’t put up with from our child. If we define our boundaries and try to stick to our principles rather than reacting to our moment-to-moment emotions, we will create a home environment that benefits both parent and child.
How to set solid boundaries:
1. Define your boundaries.
To develop boundaries for yourself, you have to know what you value, think and where you stand. This is not always easy to define, but it’s so important that your child knows who you are and what you believe. This doesn’t mean you should be rigid; it means you communicate your personal values and stick to them. If your value is to be honest, for example, then talk it and walk it. Kids are guided in life by watching what you do, which often makes more of an impression than what you say.
2. Make your expectations known.
Make a list of what you expect for yourself in relation to your kids. Think about what you can and can’t live with; think through what matters most to you. Is it responsibility, loyalty, respect? If it’s helpful for you, write it out. Tell your kids what your guiding principles are. Notice in coming up with this list that you are not attempting to control your child but rather, you are taking charge of yourself.
If one of your principles is “respect” and your son is frequently rude to you and calls you names, let him know the consequence he can expect from you each time that happens. Let him see that you respect yourself and will follow through. This is different than trying to “make him” speak the way you want him to. You’re giving him the choice, but you’re holding him accountable.
3. Get your focus on yourself instead of your child.
When your child is acting poorly and not listening to you, think about how you can more clearly communicate what you expect—and hold her accountable when she doesn’t listen. Try to say things in a way that conveys that you mean business; expect to be listened to and taken seriously.
As difficult as it is to look at yourself openly and honestly, it will help you to stop doing the impossible—which is like hitting your head against the wall as you try in vain to control your child. Instead it will open you to the possibility of taking charge of yourself. By doing this, you will be continuing your own growth. Your own self-knowledge and maturity will help lead your kids to find theirs.
4. Let your child feel the impact of a crossed boundary.
Help your kids experience the impact of crossing boundaries so that it becomes part of their reality. Admit when you have crossed someone else’s boundary and apologize for it. And when your kids cross one, let them know and hold them accountable.
Let’s say you promise your child that you’ll drive him to the movies after he does his chores — but he plays video games instead. If you follow through by not driving him, your child will experience the consequences, and will come to understand on a deep level what you expect for yourself. He will know that you respect yourself and mean what you say. Eventually, he will learn good boundaries for himself and how to respect others, as well.