Positive Parenting Tip of the Week – Setting Boundaries
In “Congrats – You’re Having a Teen,” author Dr. Ken Ginsburg, founding director of Center for Parent and Teen Communication and Professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, writes that the best way for a parent or caregiver to protect a child is to prepare him or her “to deal with life’s uncertainties while having the ability to savor life’s joys.” An important part of preparing a child for life is to establish age-appropriate boundaries that protect while also allowing them to explore, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Eden Pontz, from the Center for Parent & Teen Communication, has seven smart tips for setting age-appropriate boundaries.
1) Start with Love
Before you even begin talking about limits with your teens, start with something positive — how much you care about them and their well-being. Something they’ve done to make you proud. How much you love them. Let them know that the point of setting boundaries is to keep them safe, not to ruin a good time. Remind them you’re on their side. When you do start talking about boundaries, they are more apt to listen and respect what is established. You understand they want independence. But you care so much that you must make sure they stay within safe boundaries.
2) Start Early
Don’t wait until your children are teenagers to set boundaries. Establish them consistently when they are younger (e.g. “Don’t start crossing the street without stopping and holding my hand.”) By the time they’re teenagers, they’ll understand what’s expected. It will make things much easier when you do set limits, further reinforcing what you’ve been doing for a while. As they get older, you’ll be able to loosen the boundaries as they earn your trust by demonstrating responsibility and good judgement.
3) Timing is Everything
Ok, maybe not everything — but it does make a difference when choosing the best time to have a conversation about setting limits. Don’t establish boundaries at a time when either of you are angry, vulnerable or excited. It’s best to have level heads as you talk. If you set boundaries when angry, teens may think they are about punishment. Choose a time of day when teens are awake, alert and relaxed. If possible, try to let them know in advance what the conversation will be about.
Your children are entitled to food, clothing and shelter. Never hold these things back as a consequence. They are not entitled to staying out late, cell phones, use of a car, etc. Those are privileges that can be withheld if you choose. It’s typically more effective to withhold something closely related to the issue at hand. For example, if you notice your daughter spending too much time on social media, it’s reasonable to not permit cell phone use until homework is completed. If she breaks that rule consistently, it makes sense to take away the phone as a consequence. It would not make sense to tell her she can’t use the family car.
5) Be Willing to Negotiate…up to a Point
It’s okay to ask your children what they think is reasonable as you are creating boundaries. Explain that you are willing to negotiate – to a point. Keep in mind that if you are too strict, there’s a chance they may rebel against your rules. But make it clear that when safety or morality are at risk, you will not bend. Let them know you will revisit rules after a period of time – that is, if they’ve earned your trust by following limits you’ve set.
6) Practice What You Preach
Parents who live and lead by example, show their teens how it’s possible to live within various boundaries in their lives. Even though it’s sometimes hard to drive the speed limit when you’re in a rush, it’s set for your safety and that of others, so you do it. If you will arrive home later than expected, your family knows where you are and how they might contact you. When parents demonstrate how to live within reasonable limits, teens are more likely to accept the boundaries set for them.
7) Follow Through with Consequences
As much as possible, allow for natural consequences to take place in situations in which limits have been pushed too far. If you have set a particular consequence for your children, be sure to follow through when rules are broken. It’s important to maintain your credibility and reinforce that boundaries are important. Don’t establish consequences that you are unable to follow through on.
Want to learn more great parenting tips? Visit www.parentandteen.com for information on parenting, communication strategies and more.
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