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How Can I Set Effective and Healthy Boundaries With My Child?

Setting effective and healthy boundaries with your child can help improve your relationship. Every relationship has boundaries, which will have consequences when these boundaries are crossed. Boundaries also keep relationships appropriate, and finding a balance is key to maintaining a healthy relationship with our kids. Boundaries can teach our kids how to get their needs met in the right way.

Firm Boundaries Versus Loose Boundaries

Boundaries that are not firm can be considered as “suggestions.” As parents, we need to consider what actions require us to intervene with a firm boundary or a “loose boundary” (suggestion). As Fire Mountain’s co-founder Aaron Huey says during a coaching call with parents, we cannot control everything that our kids do. However, we can set boundaries by stating what we are and aren’t willing to provide for our kids. Some boundaries are non-negotiable, such as in “life and limb” scenarios.

What Are You Willing to Provide for Your Kids?

As parents, we have some room to set boundaries by what we are and are not willing to provide. For example, if your kid is using drugs or alcohol and asks to use your car, you can say something like, “I’m not willing to loan my car to someone who uses drugs. If you are willing to take regular drug tests, we can work something out.” If your child is struggling with an addiction to their cell phone, you can say, “I’m not willing to pay for a cell phone for someone unable to use their phone responsibly.” Statements like these can open the door for a negotiation process.

Negotiations and Consequences to Set Boundaries

When you say something to your child about what you are and are not willing to provide, you might hear things like, “you’re unfair!” or “all my friends’ parents aren’t this strict!” Kids will say something like this to get their needs met. As parents, our job is to show our kids the appropriate way to get their needs met. We can validate how they feel while being non-reactive to their attempts to get us to cave. Now, we can set expectations and begin negotiating consequences.

When we state what we can and cannot provide, we set a boundary while also teaching our kids how to access their wants healthily. Understanding what our limitations are can help set a consequence. Think about what you are and are not willing to do. If there is no room for negotiation for certain things, then set that boundary right away. For example, if you are not comfortable giving your kid a cell phone plan, be clear about it. When you do not want to offer something, then do not put it “on the table!”

Once you are clear about what you are willing to provide and what conditions will need to be met, you can negotiate with your child to meet your expectations. Boundaries like this can be useful to teach your kid the right way to get their needs met. By providing clear consequences for behaviors, the responsibility is on your kid. Once your kid knows the expectations and has agreed to the consequences, they have the choice to behave accordingly. 

Life and Limb: The Non-Negotiables 

Some boundaries are non-negotiable. These are issues that are about safety or “life and limb.” Safety concerns are non-negotiable and require parents to step in and intervene. To establish boundaries with kids, consider what is and isn’t a safety issue. For example, a child who is depressed and isolating or having suicidal ideations needs intervention. This is not a time where the choice to use coping skills or suffer the consequences is negotiable. The consequences in this scenario could be deadly. However, a kid who is failing math might need suggestions and boundaries that provide an opportunity for failure to learn and grow. 

When creating boundaries for your kids, consider the consequence of failure to meet your expectations. Remember to stay grounded in the short-term. We can start to confuse “life and limb” situations with minor infractions if we allow our fear to take over. Most of the time, the consequence of failure in the short-term is a lesson and an opportunity to grow. When you are unsure of what boundaries to set for your kids, talk with other parents, teachers, professionals, or research online. By setting clear boundaries for your child, you can help them reach their goals as they learn to meet their needs the right way.

Setting boundaries with kids requires a balancing act between what is vital and what is expected. Sometimes, we can set boundaries that provide our children with the opportunity for failure. We can then ally ourselves with our kids, empathize with their struggles, and troubleshoot solutions. Other times, we need to intervene and take over when our kids are in scenarios risking “life and limb.” By keeping perspective on the bigger picture, we can lower our anxiety about situations that may not be as urgent as we believe, such as grades and school work. Behavioral contracts can help to set the boundaries and expectations in the home for your child’s behavior. The contract can also address what is and what is not a “life and limb” situation. If your child is struggling with issues like addiction, cutting, promiscuity, suicidal ideation, anxiety, or other problems, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, is the next right step. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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