I once had an “out of control” teen brought to my counseling office by a Christian family. My first question to the parents was, “Tell me the rules you have for your son in your home.” The parents looked like two deer mesmerized by car headlights. I knew that my work needn’t be with the child in this family. My work was to teach the parents how to set healthy boundaries for their son. The truly amazing fact is that children often tell me they are thrilled when their parents make and begin enforcing rules. This simple act shows children that their parents do love and care for them.
People of all ages need boundaries, but children especially do…because they thrive on structure, routine, consistency and knowing limits to their behavior. The following are ways that parents can model and implement boundaries within the home.
1. First comes God, then mom and dad. Kids come third.
A dysfunctional pattern I see is when a child’s relationship with one parent so monopolizes that parent’s time and energy that the other spouse feels left out. Another pattern is when the child becomes the main focus of the home. God must be first. Second in line is the marriage. Making time for dates or conversation over a cup of tea teaches children the sacredness of the marriage. Children come third. I’m not talking about neglecting children or having them be seen and not heard. Children are most secure and free of anxiety when they know the parental relationship is healthy and intact. Living a totally child-centered life is not in the best interest of the child. This gives the child the impression that they are the center of the universe.
2. Children are children, and adults are the leaders.
I tell children, “Sometimes you have choices such as choosing an apple or an orange for lunch. But other times adults make the choices.” Making room for hearing your child’s needs or requests is important as long as it it done respectfully. But ultimately, the parents need to have the final say no matter how much a child whines or complains.
3. Personal time, space, and belongings need to be respected.
Bedrooms and bathrooms are places where people deserve privacy. Develop a policy of knocking and gaining permission before entering. Teach family members to ask before using an object that belongs to another family member.
4. Spiritual practices are nonnegotiable.
Parents make the decisions about the spiritual development of the children. There is no opting out of church, family prayer time, youth group or bible study. Making sure that these practices match the developmental level of children is important. This becomes the responsibility of the parent. Asking a five year old to sit still through a ten minute prayer isn’t necessarily age appropriate.
5. Have zero tolerance on hurting others.
I see children who are being bullied in their own homes by siblings. Often times this includes being punched, kicked, choked and demeaned. The home needs to be a place of safety, refuge, and building up. Most parents would not tolerate their child being bullied at school, but I see parents who normalize harmful behavior as just sibling rivalry.
6. We all do the work of running the household.
I think doing chores may now be a thing of the past. Children go to school and then come home and are ushered to piano lessons, soccer practices, and “play dates”. Parents tell me their children are too busy to do chores. (But who signs the child up for all of these activities?)
I was impressed to be in the home of a single mom the other day. Lunch must have just ended. I watched a middle school boy put the dishes in the dish washer and sweep and mop the kitchen floor. He knew helping was just part of being a family and he cheerfully did his tasks. Now, there is one happy boy! What do children learn if their parents clean their rooms and make their beds for them?
Parenting is one tough job! We all need encouragement and guidance in this area. The following is an excellent resources on boundaries and parenting:
Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children by Henry Cloud and John Townsend