Setting Clear Boundaries
Setting Clear Boundaries can cut through the confusion,keeping your kids safe, and you sane.

Setting Clear Boundaries

It goes without saying that setting boundaries is important to keep your kids safe. Using the right wording makes all the difference when making sure your kids understand. Here’s a practical example of how to put the right wording in place.Setting clear boundaries also makes it easier for you to bring your kids on track before they go astray.

The confusion of unclear boundaries

I was sitting in a park that was popular with locals and families one summer day. A family group sat nearby. Their young son about three years old wanted to ride his scooter on the footpath near the playground where the family was seated a few metres away.  When his dad said “don’t go too far” a debate ensued.  “But I want to go!” young son protested. “Yes, I know, and you can, but I don’t want you to go too far.” Dad replied patiently “But where can I go?” young son continued “I just want you to go where I can see you” Dad sighed.  The rest of the time was spent with Dad regularly calling out “don’t go too far!” Master Three truculently replied “I’m not!” as he scooted down the path out of sight. Dad was constantly forced to get up and chase after him to bring him back.

Different points of view

I could understand both points of view. The active three year old wanted to ride his scooter. Dad wanted to relax in the shade while still keeping an eye on his young son. Fair enough. Dad had rightly set limitations to keep his young son safe. But I could see a few problems with his wording.
  • The first problem was his boundaries were not clear enough. What does “not too far” mean to a three year old?  
  • The second  problem was that those boundaries were from the Dad’s point of view, not the young son’s. Dad knew whether or not he could see his son. But how would a three year old understand what his dad could see?
  • Lastly, because the boundaries were not clear, Dad was finding it hard to enforce them.He had to keep chasing after his son scooting away from him. 

A clear boundary in sight

setting boundaries between pathway and lamp post
A clear boundary could be set on the pathway between a lamp post and a tree.
There was a lamp post and a large tree next to the path about 5 metres apart. Telling the boy to ride on the path between the lamp post and tree would set a clear boundary that both of them could understand. Dad could also have made it interesting by challenging his son to race between the lamp post and tree and then trying to beat that time when he rode between them the next time.   Of course, adventurous kids will want to push those boundaries. Beyond the lamp post was another tree about two metres further along the path. Master Three appeared adventurous, so the next step could be to encourage him to expand his boundaries just a little by riding to the next tree along. It would still suit Dad’s objectives of keeping his son safe and within his eyesight By setting clear boundaries, everyone’s happy. Dad gets to sit in the shade and watch his son, and the son gets to ride his scooter happily. 

Three simple steps

It can be frustrating when setting boundaries turns into a debate because we haven’t really made our limitations clear enough.  Does your child behave like a truculent three year old off on an adventure? Try out these three steps using the right words to help you set clear boundaries.
  1. Avoid saying “don’t”. Tell them what you want them to do, instead of what you don’t want them to do. 
  2. Make it explicit. Replace “Don’t go too far” with “Ride between the lamppost and the tree”
  3. Describe what you want to see.
    1. Ride: says the action you want them to do.
    2. Between: says where you want them to ride.
    3. Lamp post and tree are the two clear objects you want them to ride between.
Father and son walking on path
By setting boundaries that you can clearly see, everyone is happy

What has your experience been?

Had a similar experience? It would be great to hear what you think. Feel free to write your comments below.

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