Have you ever played a game where the rules were not clearly understood, where no player was ever “out of bounds”? If so, you know about the chaos that ensues. The same is true of parenting—kids need clear boundaries. Not long ago, researchers from the University of Washington discovered that overly permissive parents tend to have children who are more entitled
than their peers and tend to be the bullies in their social groups. But implementing boundaries can be tricky. When rules and expectations are enforced without love, grace and respect, the family atmosphere turns legalistic, without much room for grace and forgiveness. In my counseling practice, I’ve met several families in which parents have wanted me to “fix” their child’s behavior problems. As I talked with these children and their parents, it became clear that the real issue was a lack of clear boundaries in their home, or rules that were too strict and not applied with love and grace.
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As parents, we often don’t have the energy or capacity to be perfectly consistent with the limits and boundaries we design for our home. I’ve had many moments where I’ve let standards slide. But our goal should be overall consistency in pursuing this trait, even if we have moments when we fall short.
Boundaries laced with love, respect and grace provide several important benefits to kids:
Maturity and Discipline
The real world is filled with rules and limitations. Kids who understand healthy boundaries learn what it means to grow up and be more like an adult. They learn to confidently say “yes” and “no” without fear of what people think. They develop an ability to wait for rewards and contribute to a team effort.
Kids raised with boundaries learn to listen and respond to authority. Interestingly, discipline from parents is often seen as an opportunity to learn something, even though it doesn’t seem good in the moment.
When kids understand expectations, they develop a stronger sense of safety and security. They understand what happens when they follow rules, even if they sometimes challenge those boundaries. Testing boundaries helps kids see what the true limits are, and when parents consistently enforce these boundaries, children’s desire to test limits diminishes. (Inconsistent enforcement can create frequent, tiresome battles.)
Kids who recognized a predictable structure of family life are able to focus on fun and enjoyment rather than trying to figure out what rules are going to get them in trouble. These kids also don’t get hyper-focused on fairness and structure with friends or at school, because their home life helps them see that life, overall, has a healthy structure.