All of us need boundaries: how we allow others to treat us, and how we talk to and treat others in any given situation. Boundaries are essentially rules or limits on behavior and form the basis of self-control and self-discipline. For kids especially, boundaries offer guidelines for developing strong impulse control and maintaining strong relationships. Without them, kids will find it difficult to adjust to social situations like school and group activities.
I think many parents think they’re doing their kids a favor by having no or few established boundaries. Maybe these parents, as kids themselves, had poor experiences with too rigid or otherwise overwhelming boundaries and told themselves they’d do it differently. Whatever the reason, it might be time to reevaluate where and how you establish boundaries for yourself and your children.
The benefits of boundaries
Kids like to know what’s expected of them; most of the time, if they know what’s expected they’ll honor that. Having these clear rules helps reduce anxiety and nervousness for kids. For adults, boundaries are necessary for scheduling our days and ensuring we’re not overextending ourselves or our kids.
Boundaries also keep kids safe. For example, rules about not going past a set point on the sidewalk, or not going into the front yard without an adult help kids avoid potential injuries. Even within the house itself, you might set boundaries on which rooms kids can be in without adults to help them avoid getting hurt. Just remember: the rules you set for a three-year-old are going to be different than the rules you set for a ten-year-old are going to be different than the rules you set for a teenager.
We all need a set of rules to live by and to help us teach others how to treat us. If we have boundaries about the ways others treat and talk to us, we must learn to kindly tell those approaching our lines that there are behaviors we don’t allow. We might even have to learn how to effectively say I don’t allow others to talk to me that way.
Over the more than thirty years we’ve been teaching martial arts and working in the school systems, we’ve seen a wide range of kids: some with rigid boundaries all the way to those who don’t seem to have any. The kids with clear boundaries understand and respect the rules faster, are less anxious, and seem to be a little more well-adjusted than the others. I’ve seen early teens with essentially no boundaries in their home life struggle in school where there are rules and boundaries everywhere; these kids were often in trouble and struggled to respect anyone else.
Set some appropriate boundaries for your kids and for yourself. It won’t be too long before you see a positive change in how well they’re reaching goals, achieving successes, and managing their anxieties.