How to maintain boundaries for our children

A parenting instructor gives three golden rules.

 Family goes groery shopping (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Family goes groery shopping
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Laws and boundaries are a necessary condition for the mental health of our children. But for quite a few parents, applying the boundaries is challenging, especially during non-routine periods, such as holidays.

The holiday season or summer vacation enables parents and children to get out of the routine and familiar frameworks that dictate a clear agenda (school or kindergarten for children, and work for parents), along with more time together.

There’s time for gatherings with the extended family and joint activities such as trips, vacations and more.

Departing from routine makes it harder to maintain boundaries.

Have you ever wondered why it’s difficult for us to set boundaries? 

The reasons can be varied: Maybe we think the child will love us less? Maybe we have a hard time enforcing the rules? Maybe we grew up in a house that had a lot of strict rules, and we decided that wasn’t what we wanted so we’re the exact opposite? Perhaps because setting boundaries requires perseverance and determination, which are our weak traits?  Or, we don’t know how to do it without ruining our connection with the kids?

Let’s not get confused and think that in order to be an authoritative parent we must be aggressive, be dominant over the child  and make them obey through commands, punishments and threats. This would be an abuse of our authority. Being an authoritative parent requires us to be kind, close and invested in our kids, and have a calm and soothing manner.

Three golden rules in setting boundaries

First and foremost, it’s important to know that we are setting boundaries for ourselves. As soon as the child speaks insolently, swears or shouts, show him that this is where you draw the line. Get up, let him or her know you won’t be spoken to like that, and leave. When we set boundaries for ourselves, we teach our child about human dignity.

Similarly, don’t say the same thing a thousand times. If we respect ourselves, say it only once. For example, if you want your child to shower, don’t say over and over , "Well, go take a shower. How many times should I ask?" Instead approach your child and ask, "Are you turning off the TV or me?" Or simply say: "Go shower because it’s important that we sit together for dinner."

Our children need parents who will say something, then follow through. This builds trust between parent and child.

When it’s clear to the parent, it’s clear to the child. When our children need medicine, we make sure to give it exactly as the doctor explained. Why? Because it's their health. We must treat children's education and mental health the same way we treat their physical health.

If you know that things like screen time, eating treats and maintaining a sleep schedule all have rules, it will be more natural for you to enforce behavioural boundaries with your children, explain to them what the logic is behind it and stay consistent until the child follows rules consistently.

Before we leave the house with the kids, we should state expectations. This way, things will be clear and this will encourage good behavior.

How do you do that? Tell the kids the day’s schedule and how you expect them to behave. 

"We’re going on a trip today and I trust that you’ll behave nicely.” 

“When we get to the mall we can’t go to the gymboree like the last time, instead I need your help at the supermarket."

We’ll also remind them that in the car everyone will be responsible for their behavior, because it’s our limit. We don’t drive when there is shouting and fighting. You might suggest that everyone in turn will play the song they like, or ask the child who regularly opposes wearing a seat belt to be responsible for not letting the car move until everyone is buckled. If you give him a role, he will feel significant and will resist less.

When you arrive, give the kids an amount allocated for spending, and let them be partners in deciding what to spend the money on. By doing so we make them feel that we trust them and talk with them, but don’t dictate. Give kids a 15-minutes heads-up before leaving home. When they cooperate, we’ll encourage and remind them how much pleasure they give us and how much fun it is to spend time with them.

Coordination of expectations with young children will be done mainly regarding safety rules. There is no need for intimidation, as we can explain to them what might happen and what they should avoid.

Chofit Behari is a parenting instructor and group facilitator. This article originally appeared on the Jerusalem Post's sister website, Maariv.