Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Your Kids (Part 2 of 2)

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Your Kids (Part 2 of 2)

Psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend discuss the importance of parents defining appropriate boundaries and sticking with consequences in order to help kids learn to lead balanced, productive, and fulfilling adult lives. (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date: October 8, 2013



Dr. Henry Cloud: When a parent begins to understand that when, you know, if I’m feeling frustrated, by definition I’m out of control and now the kid has control of me. Because if I’m, you know, givin’ them the consequence, why do I need to be upset? And when we get upset, is when we feel out of control and usually that’s two or three steps past when there should have been a firm limit and a consequence.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Parenting wisdom from Dr. Henry Cloud, describing a common challenge and frustration for moms and dads. And you can probably relate at some level to what he’s talking about. This is Focus on the Family, and today, we’ll hear part 2 of a great conversation we had with Dr. Cloud and his coauthor and colleague, Dr. John Townsend. Uh, now the basis for this conversation is a book they wrote together, called, Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children. And your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, this is amazing content. And uh, if our listeners missed last time, get a copy of the program. It is good stuff. And you know, I think a lot of parents, me included, were surprised by the conflict and struggles we face with our children. I’m not sure why that is, other than that strong, free will. Maybe you had an idealized picture in your head about perfect little angels who always talk respectfully and do their homework without prompting, and of course, take the garbage out on the first time they’re asked, not the forty-first time. Uh, but that’s typically not reality. You might have some really well-behaved kids, but most of the time, they’re gonna squirt out here or there and do things that really frustrate you. Our kids are only human, and they have that free will, which means they’re gonna behave badly sometimes. And they may even push your buttons on a more regular basis. And despite all of that, you still love them, I know, and you’re trying your best to raise them in a Godly way.

And you know what? Here’s the good news: you don’t have to try to do that parenting job alone. Focus on the Family is here to give you the practical tools and insight you need to raise healthy, godly children. We’ve got lots of great resources for you, like this broadcast with John and Henry, and the wonderful book they’ve written, and that’s why I’m looking forward to sharing more of their wisdom with you today.

John F.: And as Jim said earlier, get the audio download, a CD, or if you don’t have it yet, get the mobile app so you can listen on the go, at

Well, let’s go ahead and get into it. Jim, this is how you started part 2 of this conversation with Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.


Jim: Uh, let me kick off of that opening, because one mom that I know, she feels really frustrated as a parent. Um, and she gets angry and it’s actually beyond the point then of where you want to be, isn’t it? Once you hit that anger, that emotion or where you’re shaming your kids, you’ve kinda of gone two or three or four steps beyond what you would recommend. Walk us through that example.

Dr. John Townsend: Well, you’ve become the kid is the problem.


Jim: That really hurts, John. Are you – you sure about that?

John T.: You’re out of gas and you’re frustrated and the laundry came in late and…

Henry: Parenting is an adult task and there should be an adult in the room.

John T.: There needs to be an adult in the room.

Jim: Okay, but let me ask you that question. Why as the adult, why do we break down? How do our kids have such power to break us down to act like children?

John T.: I don’t think it’s the kids’ power; I think it’s the choices we have like in the three or four hours before we have the interaction with pickin’ up your toys or you know, talk nice or whatever. You know, we talked yesterday on the show, Jim, about how um, a lot of times when your kid can hook you like that and you know, the – the ongoing protest or whatever, most of the times, if you’re flippin’ out or pullin’ your hair out or whatever, you haven’t gotten your tank full of the support you need.

You know, the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1, we’re supposed to comfort each other with the comfort with which we’re comforted. Did you go through a dry period? Or have you been taking care of a million people. You’ve been isolated. That’s how your kid hooks you. So, I don’t blame the kid on that, I blame the fact that mom was probably unsupported, felt uh, alone, felt helpless and that’s what leads to that kind of attitude.

Henry: Most of that feeling of being out of control comes from the fact that we are out of control, because we cannot control the behavior of a child. And when you realize that, that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, that your goal is for the kid to be in control of himself or herself, then you ask the question, okay, so what do I need to be in control of to make that happen?

So I need to be in control of giving the instruction and giving the consequences. The kid is totally in control of what they want to do with that. They choose A, B is gonna happen. They choose C, D is gonna happen. But you’ve gotta realize, you’re tryin’ to get the kid in control of themselves and not control your kids.

John T.: And – and sometimes the most helpful thing is to realize, I can’t make the kid like this or like me or say thank you, please give me another rule. If we can kinda of give up that need for the child to see reason and the lights come on and realize, they’re gonna get mad and be “pouty” at me and – and argumentative, but I can control what I do with that. All of a sudden, you’re not tryin’ to control the whirlwind, which is not, you know, your backyard anyway.

Jim: Let’s start with this – what is happening in the parent? What are they lacking in their maturity, in their emotional IQ, um, to allow it to escalate? And I – we’re all guilty of it at different times. I mean, it – it…

John T.: Yeah.

Jim: There’s buttons in us that our kids – they learn very quickly how to push those buttons and get a reaction out of us. What do we need to know about ourselves as parents, so that we can better manage our emotions as we deal with our children?

Henry: Well, I think, Number 1, it’s the feeling of powerlessness. You know, in the moment you’re wanting the kid to do something. They’re not doing it, so you feel powerless. And whenever we feel powerless, then we begin to amp up.

Jim: ‘Cause you’re backed into a corner?

Henry: Yeah, it’s exactly like the Proverb says, the angry person is like a city without walls. So, what we have to realize is at that point, I’ve lost my boundaries. The kid has control of me. I – my first step is not with the kid; my first step is with myself. And the – and maybe I need to – I need the timeout. I need to step back and say, let me think about this. What are my best options here? And I need to calm down and then I have choices.

Now again, you know, we talk about this a lot. You’re not gonna win these in the moment. You gotta back up and say, okay, what conversations do I need to have about setting the expectations of what I’m wanting from a child, as well as if they don’t do it, what’s gonna happen? And then in the moment, I have some tools. And when parents feel like they have tools, they don’t feel powerless.

Jim: Hm. Let me read from a comment that we received here at Focus on the Family from a – a mom of a – of a toddler. Let me just read it and get your response to this example. She said, “We have a very strong 3-year-old. When things don’t go her way or she’s tired, she screams for long periods of time. We’ve tried several different types of discipline and none of them seem to work. We’re at a loss as to what we can do to stop the screaming and tantrums.” Again, as a parent of young toddlers, where is that normal and you just gotta kinda look the other way, put ‘em in an area of the house where it doesn’t drive you crazy. Uh, but what is she dealing with there?

John T.: Well, there’s really only two fixes to this, I mean, the way you look at what a parent can do when you’ve got the situation. And by the way, that’s not okay. I mean, sooner or later, that’s got to end.

Jim: Right. You don’t want that happening at 7, 8, 9, 10.

John T.: No, you don’t.

Henry: Or 40.


John T.: Yeah, right.

Henry: Right, let’s not…

Jim: Fair enough.

John T.: So, Number 1 is when people say – and I hear this all the time – “Well, we tried this,” sometimes they mean, “I tried a timeout once and they didn’t like it, so there’s ano – is there another answer?” Well, no, no. Sometimes you’ve got to do that same thing a lot of times, especially if you’ve got a kid who’s been trained by maybe you rescuing them or giving them too many chances. You do the same thing a lot and there’s a – there’s…

Jim: Right.

John T.: …basically a learning effect and the kid learns, “Oh, it’s gonna happen again.” The 30th time, gosh is the tipping point. Sometimes that you’re not doing the right consequence. And so sometimes parents have to figure, what really means somethin’ to my kid? Is it taking away a to – a favorite toy or getting him out of the action with the other kids? So always – Number 1 is do the same – the right thing over and over and over and over again and don’t say, “Well, we tried it a couple times.” Well, Number 2, try different things that matter to the child.

Jim: So you’re sayin’, stick with it?

John T.: Stick with it.

Jim: Don’t give up.

Henry: Right and I’d say somethin’ else about this is – that’s very effective. When you put a kid in timeout and they’re, you know, old enough to understand, this is for a minute or whatever, one of the things that I think is very powerful – I do it with my kids all the time – is say, you know, “If you scream, the – the clock starts over.” So you get out of timeout when you’ve been quiet for a minute and they earn their way out by doing the right behavior. And you’ve got to always remember, you’re trying to – it’s like the Bible says, put off the old and put on the new. You’re tryin’ to get rid of negative behavior, but you’re trying to teach positive behavior at the same time.

Jim: Right, but – yeah, the aspirational side of this whole equation. Last time we talked about that law of sowing and reaping. And if you didn’t hear that, go get a download; get the CD. It was great information. Let’s dig into another law in your book, Boundaries with Kids. You talk about the law of responsibility, which we’re touching on that and that’s why I wanted to bring that up. You’re really aiming for your children to grow up to be responsible adults. And I think that’s wrapped into your law of responsibility.

John T.: Oh, yeah. I mean, kids come out of the wound with the mantra, “You’re responsible for me.” But at – in infancy, that’s really true.

Jim: Right.

John T.: Mom is the lifeline and she’s the life support system and they can’t survive without her. So – so in those first few months, probably the first year of life, yeah, the kid has very little responsibility except to survive and grow and to have their metabolism to – to begin to calm down and stabilize. But after that point, a big, big part of parenting is helping the child to understand, “You’re responsible for your behavior and for your attitude and your actions and your feelings and all these sorts of things.” And that begins the process of them becoming a functioning human.

Jim: Uh, you know, John and Henry, one of the difficulties and I see it – I’ll say it, I see it in my own parenting and I think Jean and I together. Um, we can want to have that tenderness toward our child. We can move from that kind of baby stage, where you’re actively engaged and deriving probably some intrinsic benefit from being that parent that is taking care of that child. And you have to feed it; you have to change his diapers. You have to do all these things. You’re giving to that child and giving to that child. And then, you know, they become 7, 8 and 9. And you’re still holding onto your old behaviors and you’re not matching the mental and emotional needs of your older child now. That could be disastrous and…

John T.: Yeah.

Jim: …I see it for us. Uh, let me, you know, just with our boys, we can – if we have an error in our parenting, it tends to go that way. We’re doin’ too much for them.

John T.: Yeah, you’ve got those milestones that you’ve got to be handing off, handing off. We have a – I’ve a great failure story on – in my own confessional. This is – I think that Barbi, my wife and I, we went too long in when do you wake up the kids and when do you let the alarm clock wake up the kids?

John F.: Mmhmm.

John T.: And it was sorta like, you go in and you – and you say, “Wake up.” And then you come back in 10 minutes later and then turn the shower on and all this horrible like rescuing stuff. But we liked the nurturing part. And then I finally realized, I’m creating somebody who’s gonna like the – is the boss gonna wake them up? Is their wife gonna wake ‘em? So I – I told the family at breakfast. I said, “I’m retiring, not from parenting, but I’m retiring from waking you ever up again.”

Jim: I’m not your bellman.

John T.: And what happened was nobody believed me and so the school called us saying, “You’re getting -” you know, it’s that recording that says, “This is our …”

Henry: Yeah.

John T.: “…This is the office and where are your kids?” And my wife’s a teacher and so her shame hits. “I’m an educator.” And I said, “I’m doin’ it again.” I went and bought the biggest alarm clock you could get at the hardware store. Put it across the room so it bugs them and so, they had to get up. And after Day Number 3, they had demerits until Day Number 3, and then they woke up after that. But I had that same nurturing influence until I fired myself.

John F.: We tried to do that in our home, but my wife’s response will be, “But then I’m inconvenienced, because then the child needs to get to the appointment or whatever.”

John T.: Right.

John F.: It really…

John T.: Well…

John F.: …it – so, I’m – so, I’m waking them up because otherwise, I pay a price.

Henry: And that is such an important principle and here’s the deal. The bottom line, parenting will not be convenient, okay? But our question is, do I want to be inconvenienced a few times now or do I want to be inconvenienced for the next 10 years?

John F.: Hm.

Henry: John went through three days of inconvenience and then the inconvenience was over. Enabling literally and you know, this is what we all need to realize as parents, it can go on till they’re 40.

Jim: That’s the fear.

Henry: You – you’re looking at the failure to launch syndrome…

Jim: Yeah.

Henry: …if you don’t get this done early and the earlier, the better as long as it’s age-appropriate. You know, they oughta be gettin’ themselves out of bed. They oughta be dressed and down for breakfast at a certain time…

John T.: When are they gonna cook…

Henry: …on and on.

John T.: …breakfast for us? I mean, that’s when the…


Jim: Well, and John, I want…

Henry: At about 7 or so…

Jim: Yeah.

Henry: …bringing us our…

Jim: I mean, I really want to re-emphasize that, because I think one of the things is, as parents who are wantin’ to live by the rules and represent the Lord well, uh, we want to, I think at times, jump in and overcompensate for our kids’ inadequacies, which are normal. But it takes a lot of course to do what you did.

John T.: All three of them hated me for three days.

Jim: I’ve – yeah.

John T.: But now they like me.

Jim: Yeah. And uh, I mean, it’s just, I’m thinking of many examples that I could apply that to with my own kids, too, if I could just bite the bullet and let them fail.

John T.: Right.

Jim: Talk about that, the fact that failure in our lives, especially as young people, teaches such profound things and gives us character and that’s right in the Bible.

Henry: It’s absolutely in the Bible and – and the autonomy that is if people could really see how God does this and realize that’s the way He wants us to do it. If you go back to Genesis, very interesting, we never see this. God tells Adam to go name the animals and then it says, “And then the Lord watched the man to see what he would name them.”

Jim: Hm.

Henry: And the whole thing of parenting, where parents are stepping in and doing things for the kids instead of letting them struggle…

John T.: Mmhmm.

Henry: …figure it out for themselves, have to fail a few times and sendin’ ‘em back, givin’ ‘em a little help, you raise healthy kids by givin’ ‘em two things – warmth and high expectations.

Jim: Hm.

Henry: And this whole culture out there about your kid’s special just ‘cause they show up, it’s a big, big problem. And the whole emphasis, “I don’t want to hurt their little self-esteem.” Kids have self-esteem, which is a bad concept anyway, but kids have a good self-image because they’re competent. And you raise competent, healthy kids by building skills and competencies, not by telling them they’re special just ‘cause they show up.

Jim: Well, you know so often we’re talking here about prolonged adolescence and the fact that…

Henry: Right.

Jim: …20-something, particularly boys, 20-something boys are acting like teenagers, rather than 20-something men.

Henry: And you know where we hear it from? We hear it from the 28-, 30-, 32-year-old single women…

Jim: Hm.

Henry: …that they can’t find any adults to date.

Jim: But here’s my point in that, Henry, is that so often we’re pointing our finger at them saying, “How could you act like this?” But we should turn that finger toward ourselves as parents and say, “You’ve created that to a large degree.”

John T.: Even with a kid that age, the best thing you can do instead of feeling hopeless like nothin’ can happen here is to say, “What can I do to love this person and be for them and on their team, but what can I do to help them increase their accountability for their lives?” And you can do that with a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old. See, there’s just – it’s never too late for them.

Jim: The other thing that occurs in that situation, as well, is that the child can feel that you’re just always on them and that they…

John T.: Right.

Jim: …the bond of love, at least from their perspective, is broken. Uh, it’s what they feel. They feel that it’s only about the rules, that I need to perform in order to get your love.

John T.: Mmhmm.

Jim: And then you’re on a pathway to disaster.

Henry: Yeah and a lot of times, that’s not the result of the rules being the problem. It’s the problem of the not having the warmth. Is – as a parent, you’ve gotta be strict and say, “Here’s house rules; here’s what I expect in grades and conduct” and all that. But are you taking initiative to enter their world, to ask them, how was today? And to ask them what they want to do and let’s go do something and let’s go get ice cream and work out together or whatever. But as much as you put down the rules, you’ve got to put that much more warmth in the equation. The kids need both. It’s all throughout the Bible. You know, it – Romans says, it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.

Jim: Right.

Henry: And so, the formula is always a two-step: connect before giving any kind of rules of expectations. If you’re giving rules without relationship, it leads to rebellion. Absolutely you cannot do that. That’s the law. The law makes things worse, not better. But grace is not the absence of standards. Grace is an empowering love and a “helping somebody” to have the abilities to do what you’re expecting.

Jim: Another law that you talk about is the law of respect and that’s in your book, Boundaries with Kids. Uh, this one touches me close to home again, because I think at times, if there’s something our boys will do, it’s that burst of disrespect…

Henry: Mmhmm.

John T.: Yeah.

Jim: …especially toward mom. And I don’t tend to get a lot of that, but it – it troubles both of us, but really troubles Jean. And we engage it. I think there’s a psychologist on secular radio uh, James Lehman, who talks about changing your kid in 60 seconds. And uh, what are some things you can do in this area when your kids are a little older, probably you know, 9 to 12, maybe that preteen and certainly those teen years, where respect becomes a big issue within the household, because uh, you’ve been pretty good about the rules, the rules, the rules. Hopefully, you’ve expressed love.

John T.: Respect’s more subtle.

Jim: But respect is a deeper and more subtle…

John T.: Yeah.

Jim: …issue. You’re right.

John T.: In – in a book I wrote called, Boundaries with Teens, I have a whole section on disrespect, because adolescence is the disrespecting time. And if you’ve got a preadolescent 10, 11, 12 it starts to hit, it’s…

Jim: Why is that first of all? Why is that being expressed by that particular uh, time in life?

John T.: Well, God put that into the equation in terms of – that’s the time where they’re taking the values they learned from you, because you know, before that age, they were soaking up your values and who you are and what God is and what family is. And now it’s time to rethink that and think, well, what do I really believe? So that they can do the leaving and cleaving process that God talks about in Genesis 2. This is when they’re workin’ out, how much do I take from what you are saying and how much do I not take? They’re becoming a grown-up, so it’s a – it’s a messy time.

But I break down the respect issue into three categories. Um, actions and words and tone. And you’ve got to have a clarity, you and your spouse. Sit down and say, here’s what we need in terms of actions. In other words, if you don’t like my rule, you can’t walk out and slam the door if you don’t like it. That’s an action. That’s a disrespectful action. There’ll be a consequence for that. You don’t have to like the rule, but you close the door quietly.

Tone of voice is that disrespectful tone and you know it. And if the kid says, “I don’t know what you mean,” you have to do it for the kid and say, there’s this sneer in your voice. And you to be…

Jim: (sighs) Yeah.

John T.: You’ll say disrespected. And so, you have to – you have to actually model it and say that we don’t do this in our house. And the other is words. There are certain words we don’t use like, “You idiot.” And you give ‘em that list. And if you can break it down into those categories, then the child just can’t say you’re being too vague about this. But you’ve got to nip disrespect in the bud, while at the same time, preserving their right to say in respectful ways, “I don’t think that’s a fair rule. I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it.” There are ways you can do that in respect.

Henry: And sometimes they’re right.

John T.: And sometimes they’re right.

Henry: You know, that protest, even at pretty early ages, if you respect it and you’re listening, I want my kids to know that they’ve got a first pass back and say, “Well, I don’t like -” “Well – well, tell me why.” And there are many, many times, they’re like “You know, you’re right. I didn’t think about it that way. Let’s figure out another way to do it.”

And then they also learn that when you mean it, you mean it. If sometimes they have the ability to teach you something and – and negotiate, that’s really good. What you don’t want is you don’t want a character that is always pushing and negotiating and can’t receive no.

Jim: Right. And that’s critical to be able to say you’re sorry as a parent. Talk about the power of that and the importance of it. You touched on it, but reinforce that attribute of a good parent, where when you’re – you’re makin’ that mistake, you can actually “fess up.” And what happens when the child is experiencing that? What are they seeing in you as a mom or a dad?

John T.: Well, they’re havin’ an experience in two things. First they’re seein’, I’m heard. Somebody heard me.

Jim: I’m respected.

John T.: Yeah and the other thing is that they’re seeing a model for, well, this is how grown-ups solve problems, so it’s getting them ready for marriage and for a job and career and ministry and service.

Jim: Yeah and now as we end this second day and again, if you didn’t get last time and you want to get a copy of today’s program, go to the website, download it, get a CD. But let’s end with this question and have both of you respond to it. Uh, I’m the parent. I have not been dialed in. I have missed it. I’ve got a preteen or a teen who is acting out in rebellious ways. And with all the counseling that the two of you have done with parents on this issue of boundaries, what are some things that I can do today when my child comes home from school and we start the normal conflict which goes right into bedtime and probably is about bedtime and homework and all these things, what are some things I can do tonight to begin to get ahold of this uh, problem?

John T.: Well, the first thing is you’ve got to receive grace for yourself between the time you’re hearing this program and your kid comes home. It might mean a phone call or a lunch or a 911 call to a friend. But if you’re tearing your hair out and you’re feeling frustrated and empty, you’re not gonna be able to fake it with a child.

Jim: They know it.

John T.: Well, yeah, they live with you. So, that’s the very first thing. But the second thing is to sit down and think before your child comes home, what are the wars that I want to win and not the battles? Sometimes we get lost in the skirmishes, but what’s the big thing?

Jim: Yeah.

John T.: By the time 9 o’clock comes and everybody’s supposed to be in bed, what are the main things I want to have done? Homework? A nice time with each other? And set those as the big picture.

Henry: And it’s very important to include them in the planning process. You know, sit down when – when they come home and say, “Okay, so it’s like 4 o’clock, right? Now you know, bedtime’s at 8:30, so here’s what we need. I want you to have some play time at the end. I want you to get your homework done and we’re gonna eat at a certain time. Let’s figure out together what needs to be done by when. When do you think you can do this, et cetera, et cetera. And they’re involved because it – they need to learn that planning and organizing, you know, way of doin’ life anyway. So include them on the front end. The last thing we want to do is be chasing a car that ran a stop sign. You know, that’s – a cop doesn’t do that.

John T.: Yeah, guys, there’s a great passage in Deuteronomy 6, where it says, if your kids say to you, why do we have all these statutes and commandments, you know, they’re sort of difficult and then the answer was, because we were slaves in a place called Egypt and God gave us these statues and commandments to give us a life of success and – and survival. And the idea is all through life you want your kids to see the rules were good and they’ll bring you life and they’ll bring you happiness. So you normalize having these rules all the way through your parenting years.

Henry: And you can make it fun. I mean, the last thing I want to do is make this stuff miserable. Involve the kids. We – we had a thing um, when the kids started blaming, you know, whatever age that was, I would – would tell them, “Okay, guys, here’s the deal. Blamers are losers.” And I’d put the L up on my forehead like this. And so, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Every time somebody blames, then everybody else spot it. You put the L up on your forehead and you have to pay a fine,” right? And so, we turned it into a game. But if somebody took responsibility, then you get the three fingers up like a W like this. That’s a winner. And so it – this can…

John T.: They take money out of the pot?

Henry: Exactly. It can…

Jim: Yeah.

Henry: …be really, really fun. This doesn’t have to be misery.

Jim: I’m thinkin’ I might get bruises on my forehead if I do that – that loser part too much. But uh, Dr. John Townsend, Dr. Henry Cloud, your book, Boundaries with Kids, great input, great information. We’ve only covered three or four of your principles. I think there are many more, I think 10 in the book. So, if you as a parent, if you’re struggling and you don’t know what to do, man, pick up the book. Pick up the broadcast. This is why Focus on the Family is here. If you need help, we have counselors that can talk with you about this. Get more resources, articles and other things. Uh, go to the website and John, you’ll take care of that. Thank you again, gentlemen for being with us.

Henry: It’s always good to be here. Thank you, guys.

John T.: Thanks.


John F: We do hope you’ll get in touch right away. Uh, you can set up an initial consult with one of our counselors, and get the resources that Jim mentioned, including the book by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend at focusonthefamily

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Avoiding Shame-Based Parenting

Psychologist Dr. Kelly Flanagan discusses the origins of shame, the search for self-worth in all the wrong places, and the importance of extending grace to ourselves. He also explains how parents can help their kids find their own sense of self-worth, belonging and purpose.

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Becoming a Clutter-Free Family

Joshua Becker discusses the benefits a family can experience if they reduce the amount of “stuff” they have and simplify their lives. He addresses parents in particular, explaining how they can set healthy boundaries on how much stuff their kids have, and establish new habits regarding the possession of toys, clothes, artwork, gifts and more.