Moms are tasked with having to teach their little ones about the small things, like flushing the toilet, or brushing teeth, and table etiquette... and then the big things, like choosing good friends, or setting goals and reaching them, or how to control oneself in a world where boundaries and self-management are essential.
The last of these, establishing healthy boundaries with children and teaching them to set boundaries, can seem a huge feat, however, ordinary moms throughout the ages have shown that it is in fact possible. Here are 10 ways to teach your children about healthy boundaries, while establishing functioning and positive boundaries in your own home for your kids:
10 Lay down the law
The first thing you need to do to set boundaries is to establish with your child where the boundary lines are. This is important since unless the law is laid down from the outset, no progress can be made in rectifying behaviors.
This will mean sitting down to communicate with your child and telling them what you value, who you are and what your ideals are. Then, walking the talk so that they can perceive you mean what you say about where these boundary lines are.
9 Communicate your expectations
What do you expect from your child? Is it integrity, or respect? What you most value in your relationship with them needs to be made crystal clear to them. If, for example, you value loyalty, then explain this to them.
Also tell them how they can show this in their relationship with you. At the same time, hear from them what they expect from you. Do they expect guidance, help, affirmation? Do they expect co-operation? Let them tell you what is on their mind.
8 Put boundary rules on display
There's something about a noticeboard or tangible display of rules and boundaries, and family goals which help everyone involved internalize a new conduct of behavior.
Writing things down makes them definite and gives a mental parameter as to what is tolerable and what is not. Still, be creative! This means putting up encouraging post-its or posters and making cardboard cut-outs for bedrooms. Get everyone involved so that it becomes a fun exercise.
7 Explain the reasons why
You want everyone to behave respectfully towards each other and grow as individuals in healthy, functional ways. However, kids might not initially understand why healthy boundaries are necessary.
This is why it is important to explain the reason behind the rules and help them to understand that these boundaries are for their benefit, and for your own. It's all about communication. Why not take your children out for an ice cream or lunch and discuss these heavy topics with them over a fun meal?
6 Consequences, consequences, consequences
Children learn best when they experience consequences for negative behavior and are rewarded for positive behaviour. If, for example, the child crosses a boundary which you have set up in terms of respect, by being rude to you, then let them know and enforce the 'law' by holding them to account.
It is best to establish such rules beforehand so that both yourself and your child agree on consequences for parent or child crossing a stated boundary (such as no movie on movie night if a boundary of respect is crossed). The benefit of having consequences is that the child will learn to adhere to greater boundaries in society, setting them up for success in relationships and in life.
5 Pay attention to yourself
It can be easy for a parent establishing boundaries to indulge in patterns of child-focused behavior. This means trying to control the said child while remaining relatively inattentive to one's own behavior.
However, boundary establishment can make a parent more aware of their own behavior, if done correctly, and can cause that parent to grow in self-awareness. While one might not always be able to control your child, you can control yourself and that can make all of the difference.
4 Be kind to yourself
Being kind to oneself goes a long way when it comes to learning new behaviors. Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't come right overnight. As they say, 'Try and try again...' Little ones might retaliate when having to learn new skills like setting boundaries, however, together you can get it right if you persist.
Keep learning from your mistakes and tweaking your approach to boundary setting until things get easier and solid foundations have been laid down.
3 Less is more
It might be tempting to suddenly lay down the law and establish water-tight boundary patterns but studies show that less is more when it comes to putting down rules. A few rules followed with consistency are worth far more than many rules which are never adhered to.
This means exercising wisdom and discernment as to which rules are important to instigate initially, and which can wait until the first rules are set firmly in place. It's about priorities and timing!
2 Get kids involved
Yes, you are 'Mom' and that makes you the big boss of your roost. Still, children do get to have a say in setting healthy boundaries and it is advisable to get them involved - since when they feel they have been part and parcel in establishing the new patterns, they are more likely to stick to them.
Don't be afraid to sit down and converse with your kids. They might be small and relatively inexperienced but they may raise some interesting points and add a fresh perspective to how things really are.
1 Be exact
Wishy-washy, lukewarm rules won't stand. If a rule is 'do this' one minute and 'whatever', the next minute, then the child probably won't respect it or comply with it. Consistency and precision is key to getting results.
Be specific in what you expect, down to terms or phrases which aren't allowed, or actions that are intolerable. Clear definitions bring good results. Also, let your child be specific in what they expect or anticipate. Let them help with writing definitions of what good boundaries look like in the family. No-one should be in doubt as to what is tolerable and what is not.