I (Dr. Cloud) can still remember what happened that day when I was eight years old. I made a big mistake, but I didn’t know it at the moment. I thought I was getting back at my sister, who was sixteen at the time. Opportunities for revenge were few and far between, and I was not about to let this one slip by. Sharon and her friend were goofing around in the den when one of them threw a pillow and broke the overhead light. They quickly figured out a way to arrange the light in such a way that you could not tell it was broken. They thought that they were off the hook. Little did my sister know that she had a sociopathic little brother with a plan.
It is scary how our kids can sense when we are weak and ready to give in to them. This can be especially true during the summer when kids are home all day and away from the structured environment of school. Without boundaries, kids learn how to beg, plead, argue, and rationalize to get out of their responsibilities. The later you start to enforce boundaries, the more energetically your children will resist.
Here are seven tips to help you set important boundaries with your kids this summer:
Thousands have told us that creating boundaries has enabled them to love and to live better, some for the first time. Nothing is more exciting than to see people grow and change.
But from our own experience and that of our audiences and readers, one thing became obvious to us. Adults with boundary problems had not developed those problems as grown-ups. They had learned patterns early in life and then continued those out-of-control patterns in their adult lives, where the stakes were higher.
When children come into the world, they are confused about the nature of their relationships. They do not think they are dealing with one person. In their minds, there are two mommies, not one. Or, two daddies, not one. There is the “good” mommy and the “bad” one.
The good one is the one who gratifies them. When they are hungry or needy, they protest, and the good mommy comes and relieves their stress. When they are gratified, they see this mommy as “good.” But if something they want is not forthcoming and Mommy frustrates their wish, she is seen as the “bad” mommy. . . .
Sometimes the most loving parents end up with the most selfish children. How can that be? We have all heard people say things like, “You know how Susan is. She only thinks of herself.” And many times, Susan comes from a nice family. But Susan’s parents did not set boundaries that required her to respect the feelings of others. This lack of boundaries led to egocentrism, which affected Susan’s ability to love. Having no boundaries in childhood can also lead to impulse problems, addictions, or irresponsibility, which is always unloving. . . .
It was a normal day, but one that would forever change my friend’s parenting. We had finished dinner, and I (Dr. Cloud) was visiting with my friend, Allison, and her husband, Bruce, when she left the dinner table to do some chores. Bruce and I continued to talk until a phone call took him away as well, so I went to see if I could lend Allison a hand. I could hear her in their 14-year-old son Cameron’s room. I walked in to a scene that jolted me. She was cheerfully putting away clothes and sports equipment and making the bed. She struck up a conversation as if things were normal: “I can’t wait for you to see the pictures from our trip. It was so much—” “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m cleaning up Cameron’s room,” she said. “What does it look like I’m doing?” “You are what?” “I told you. I’m cleaning up his room. Why are you looking at me like that?” All I could do was to share with her the vision in my head. “I just feel sorry for Cameron’s future wife.” Allison straightened up, froze for a moment, and then hurried from the... Continue Reading »
Boundaries with kids begins with parents having good boundaries of their own. Purposeful parents stay in control of themselves. If your child is controlling your decisions by protesting your boundaries, you are no longer parenting with purpose. Terri was having problems with her thirteen-year-old son Josh not doing his homework. I helped her come up with a plan that would require Josh to set aside a certain time each night to do homework. During this hour Josh had to be in his study place with nothing else but his work, and he was not to do anything else but study. Terri had no control over whether or not Josh actually chose to study during that time. What she could control was that he do nothing else during that time but sit with his homework. When I saw her the next time, Terri looked sheepish. She had not lived up to her end of the plan. “What happened?” I asked. “Well, we were all set, and then he got invited to go to a baseball game with his friend. I said no, that his hour was not up yet. But he got so upset, I could not talk him out of... Continue Reading »
In one family I (Dr. Townsend) know, seven-year-old Taylor was going through a titanic power struggle with his mother. Sometimes, she wondered if setting boundaries with kids was actually possible. Taylor fought any “do” or “don’t” she said. Finally, his mom went to his bedroom to talk to him. As she opened the door, a cup perched on the top of the door tipped over, covering her from head to toe with milk. Any parent would have blown up at her child. Instead, Taylor’s mom said, her face dripping with milk, “Son, this is really serious. I’m going to have to take some time to figure out what will be happening to you. I’ll let you know.” The next few hours were excruciating for Taylor as he waited in limbo. By that time, the mom had called her husband and worked out a plan. The plan included restrictions on Taylor’s time—such as no TV, limited outdoor time, and limited friend time—and consequences—such as shampooing the carpet and learning how to use a washing machine to clean Mom’s clothes. To avoid feeling like the bad guy, Taylor joked with his dad that evening about the incident, saying, “Dad, wasn’t that kind... Continue Reading »
Children need more than a parent who will talk about boundaries. They need a parent who will be boundaries. This means that in whatever situation arises, you respond to your child with empathy, firmness, freedom, and consequences. This is how God handles his children, and he is our model. But, sometimes parents contribute to the problem by trying to justify their kid’s behavior, rather than addressing the issue. Setting boundaries with kids isn’t about “making” your child do anything. It is much more about structuring your child’s existence so that he experiences the consequences of his behavior, thus leading him to be more responsible and caring. Use the following three key steps to help begin the process with your kids: Step 1: Acknowledge that your child is not perfect. All kids are immature sinners; this is our human condition. Some parents have difficulty with this first step. They deny their child’s behavior. They rationalize genuine problems. For example, smarting off becomes a cute sense of humor. Laziness becomes fatigue. Intrusiveness becomes high-spiritedness. Parents rationalize their child’s problems for many reasons. Some do it to avoid guilty feelings. Some don’t want their own perfectionism challenged. Some feel as if their child... Continue Reading »
A woman complained to me (Dr. Cloud) about a coworker who would always interrupt her while she was trying to get her job done. She acted as if her tendency to be behind in her work was her coworker’s fault. “Why do you talk to her?” I asked. “What do you mean?” she replied. “When she comes in and interrupts, why do you get into a conversation with her?” “Well, I have to. She is standing there talking.” “Why don’t you just tell her that you have work to do, or close your door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign?” The woman looked at me with a blank stare. To have choices and to have control of her own behavior was a concept that hadn’t occurred to her. She felt that if something happened “to her,” then that was the way it had to be. There was nothing she could do to change it. When I suggested that she had many choices, she quizzed me about them. I gave her five or six suggestions, from talking to the woman about the problem, to talking to a supervisor, to asking to be moved to another area. This was a... Continue Reading »