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Teaching A Child Boundaries & Limits

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

“Boundaries” and “limits” are two words that every parent needs to have in their vocabulary, just the same way that every child knows the words “no” and “mine”.

It comes naturally to a toddler to learn the word NO, and to shake their heads when they don’t want to eat the peas or take a bath or go to bed.

Right after NO, they somehow magically learn the word MINE, and life really changes for parents. Now that sweet, precious toddler is empowered and has the world on a string, or at least their string.

Very soon after your toddler learns their important jargon, it is important that parents start enforcing age appropriate limits and boundaries. A toddler running off from their parent who is standing line at Starbucks looks very cute with that impish smile of “are they going to get me?”

But a three or four year old who darts in and out of line, and not paying any attention to others around them is not as cute. Where are their parents who need to put them back in line with a firm, “NO”, and stop them from tearing up the store?

Boundaries and limits must begin at a young age, but should be age appropriate. You cannot expect a three year old to sit through a two-hour dinner at a fancy restaurant, or a six year old to sit still through an entire opera (despite the fact that their grandmother thinks they should) or even a 12 year old to go to five family holiday parties in a day (maybe two?)

But without teaching your children the lessons of limits, boundaries and consequences when they first venture out into the real world, you cannot expect them to listen later on as they continue to test both their limits and yours.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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