The essence of boundaries is self-control, responsibility, freedom and love.
Having good boundaries means that you are able to agree with your 'better self', and have the ability to say "No" to temptations that will cause you moral and social harm. You can also 'bounce' those who would harm you or bring you under their coercion.
Without boundaries, you can not be truly free, nor can you safely love or be loved. Having your own boundaries means that you are able to set them for others and perpetuate a moral society.
Children are not born with boundaries. In order for children to learn who they are and what they are responsible for, their parents have to set clear boundaries for them, and relate to them in ways that help them learn their own boundaries.
Growing older does not automatically mean you gain good boundaries. Some people spend their whole lives lacking self-control, and being perpetual bullies or victims. Boundaries are about structuring your child's existence so that he/she experiences the consequences of his/her behaviour, thus leading him/her to be more responsible and caring.
If boundaries are clear, children develop several realities:
Setting boundaries isn't an alternative to loving your child: it is a means of loving your child. Be connected to him/her, reassure him/her of how much you care. Be with him/her in his/her joys and sorrows, even in his/her anger at and disappointment in you. This contact is what enables him/her to grow.
Age Appropriate Boundaries
1 to 3 years: Children can learn to respond to the word "no" and can understand the consequences of their disobedience – their isolation and your disapproval.
- A well-defined sense of who they are and what they are responsible for
- The ability to choose and the understanding that if they choose well, things will go well, and if they choose poorly, they will suffer consequences
3 to 5 years: Children are now more able to understand the reasons for taking responsibility and what consequences are about. They can talk with you about it. Learning how to treat friends kindly, responding to authority, disagreeing while being respectful, and doing household chores are all a part of defining boundaries at this stage. Consequences such as ‘time-outs’ and temporary loss of privileges such as toys, TV, or fun activities are effective at this age.
6 to 11 years: Boundary issues will revolve around balancing home-life with friends, homework and school tasks and budgeting time and money. Consequences can involve restrictions on friendships, freedoms and home privileges.
12 to 18 years: This is the period in which you should begin 'de-parenting': moving from a position of control to one of influence with your child. You will be dismantling many of the 'artificial' boundaries you may have erected for their safety during childhood. Your teenager will naturally push against and test all the boundaries in their life during this stage, and it requires wisdom and determination to stand firm: some boundaries need to be held for a little longer until they are mature enough. It helps to anticipate these challenges and actually talk about them; "When you are fourteen you will be able to buy all your own clothes with a budget: until then I need you to co-operate with me."
When your children are teenagers, help them with issues such as relationships, values, scheduling, and long-term goals. Allow as many natural consequences as possible (for example, poor spending choices means having no money; or supporting the discipline the school metes out.