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Setting Boundaries With Kids

Despite successfully negotiating in business settings, many parents find it difficult to negotiate and set boundaries with their children. While coworkers may try to bargain in the conference room, children can bargain anywhere, anytime, and use anything to get their way. Setting and enforcing boundaries can be difficult, but it is necessary for children’s growth and development.

Although teenagers may challenge authority and rebel against rules, boundaries are necessary for their healthy growth and development. Children and teenagers alike crave limits to know how to regulate and monitor their behavior (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020). Having boundaries allows them to know who is in charge and what the consequences are for their actions. Boundaries implemented at a young age help children grow to respect authority and take accountability for their choices.

When implementing boundaries, the key concept to remember is that of consistency: a rule inconsistently enforced will receive inconsistent obedience. If a child is sometimes rewarded for a behavior and sometimes punished for it, this will result in confusion and frustration for both the child and the caretaker. If you are consistent and predictable with your reactions to behaviors, you will have more consistent and predictable behaviors (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). It is also important to model the behavior you wish to see. If you constantly tell your children not to use bad language and subsequently swear yourself, they will likely not listen. Children often model the behavior they see from others, particularly if it is positively enforced (Rymanowicz, 2015). The adage “do as I say, not as I do” is as ineffective as it is hypocritical. With that being said, there are multiple ways strategies you can use implement boundaries and improve behaviors:

  • Focus on reinforcing good behavior: for children, attention — even negative attention — is rewarding. If children only receive attention when they are behaving badly, they may resort to this behavior as a way of interacting with their parents. Try to “catch” your child when they’re behaving well — a simple compliment or pat on the shoulder can do wonders for reinforcing good behavior ("What You Can Do to Change Your Child's Behavior", 2019). You can also click here for more ideas about positive reinforcement, and here about ignoring negative behaviors.

  • Implement a time-out: having a time out (lasting approximately 1 minute for each year of age) is a good way to teach children to calm down after they’ve lashed out (Kavan et al., 2018).

  • Use natural consequences: this involves letting the child experience the natural consequences of their actions. For example: if you tell your child to wear a coat outside, and they refuse to do so, a natural consequence would be getting cold (“Using natural and logical consequences”).

  • Use logical consequences: these consequences are implemented by the parent and directly link the behavior to the consequence. For example: throwing a toy would result in the toy being taken away (“Using natural and logical consequences”).

Note that none of these strategies attempt to hurt or shame the child. Emphasis should be placed on a behavior being bad, not the child being bad. Furthermore, as children grow, boundaries and limits can become more collaborative as they demonstrate their maturity and responsibility. While certain rules must remain non-negotiable (like wearing a seatbelt when you’re driving a car), others can be adjusted with age (like the time limit for curfew). Regardless, implementing a set of boundaries for children when they are young provides them with limits to regulate their behavior as they grow into teenagers and young adults.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, November 5). Building Structure. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from

Kavan, M. G., Saxena, S. K., & Rafiq, N. (2018). General Parenting Strategies: Practical Suggestions for Common Child Behavior Issues. American family physician, 97(10), 642-648.

Rymanowicz, K. (2015, March 30). Monkey see, monkey do: Model behavior in early childhood. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from do both.-,Children learn and imitate behaviors by watching and listening to,the child directly interacts with.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020, July 2). Adolescent development: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

What You Can Do to Change Your Child's Behavior. (2019, June 19). Retrieved July 12, 2020, from


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