Children are often required to make split-second decisions that can lead to either a smooth or troublesome path. As a parent, you may have wondered how best to help your children learn to make positive choices. One way to set your children up for success is to establish good boundaries with them.

When you set boundaries for your kids, you provide gentle “cushions” that will stop them whenever they’re about to bump into something that can cause distress. As soon as children “hit the cushion” (the boundary), they’re reminded to alter their behaviours.

If you establish appropriate boundaries for your young children, the kids will learn to better control themselves. And as they develop self-control, your children also grow their capacity to make positive choices.

Use these ideas to set helpful boundaries for your kids:

1. It’s okay to appropriately express feelings. Tell your kids it’s okay to have and express angry feelings, but it’s not okay to throw a toy at parents or siblings. For kids as young as 2 or 3 years, begin to set boundaries like this one.

  • Expect children of these ages to occasionally “test the limit,” or challenge your boundary. This is completely normal. When these testing behaviours occur, think of each situation as an opportunity to show kids the consequences for violating your boundary.
  • If they go ahead and throw a toy at you, have them sit in a chair for the number of minutes that matches their age (if they’re 2 years old, they sit for 2 minutes; 3 years old, 3 minutes).
  • During the episode, show no feelings. When you’re establishing boundaries, it’s time to be diplomatic. Be firm, but not frustrated or angry.
  • Simply state, “It’s not okay to throw a toy at Daddy. When you throw a toy, you have to sit in a chair,” and say nothing more until the minutes have passed. Then, thank the child for sitting in the chair and go on with your day.
  • Hopefully, the child will not throw a toy again. Instead, they’ll see that you allowed them to have and show feelings without negative consequences, as long as they stayed within your boundary.

2. Answer Mom or Dad when they call you. Establish a rule that children stop what they’re doing, and verbally answer you if you call their names. Setting this boundary teaches your child from a young age that what adults (authority figures) have to say is important.

  • When kids learn this rule, they’ll be more ready for kindergarten when the time comes, because they’ll already have the skills to follow the teacher’s directions.

3. Hold Mom or Dad’s hand when out of the house. Set a boundary that when you go out in public with your 2 to 6 year-old, he must hold your hand. This boundary aids your child in two ways: he learns to follow directions and develops self-control.

  • After all, there’s no running around touching a lot of things if he’s right beside you holding your hand. Having this rule makes a profound difference in how your children choose to behave in public.

Parenting is one of the most challenging jobs ever. If you establish and keep boundaries for your children when they’re very young, your work will be easier. Plus, those boundaries help to train and influence your child to make positive choices all his life.

As a parent, you have the power to set up and maintain appropriate boundaries for your kids from a very young age. Help create happier, healthier lives for your kids by setting loving limits for them to follow.

About The Author – Ed Gough, Jr.

Ed's experience working with fathers and men injects an extra dose of thoughtfulness into all of his conversations in these areas. His mission is to bring purpose and clarity to fathers' and men's lives. He believes that "the better men are, the better the world will be". 

Ed has been a member of Dad central (Ontario) Steering Committee since May 2019. Ed hosts Dad Central's monthly epic events and was the moderator for the "Dad's Panel" at the 2019 Side-by-Side: Fatherhood Matters in the Early Years" conference.

Ed has been the host and producer of his own award winning online show The Dr. Vibe Show™ for the last decade. He's done over 2000 interviews with people from all over the world. In 2018, The Dr. Vibe Show™ was the recipient of the Innovation Award by the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA). Since May 2013, The Dr. Vibe Show™ is the first and only online show to be regularly featured on the popular U.S. based men’s website The Good Men Project.

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