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:
1. Create summer structure
Develop boundaries that you need for your family and present them to your child, such as taking time each day to play on their own, reading a book, cleaning their room, going to bed on time, etc. You and your child both need to be a part of this process. The more you involve her in it, the more likely she is to take ownership of it and cooperate in her own growth. Invite her to partner with you, even though the plan is still going to be executed if she refuses.
2. Introduce new boundaries at a peaceful time.
Pick a good time and place when you and the child are getting along to discuss boundaries. Don't raise the issue in the middle of a screaming match. That only serves to polarize things, and the child often feels forced to react more strongly against you to maintain separateness.
3. Take a "for" stance instead of an "against" stance.
Let kids know that setting boundaries isn't about forcing her to do something or making their summer miserable. Tell her you see a problem that's hurting her and negatively affecting the family. You want to deal with it because you love her, and you want to do it together with her.
4. Present boundaries using specific terms.
Make boundaries specific. For example, you could say, "Your yelling and running behavior around the house is a problem. It's disruptive and it doesn't seem to be getting better."
5. Present the consequences.
When your boundaries aren't respected, take a big breath and be direct. Don't be afraid of the bad news. You aren't hurting her; you're freeing her from herself! Emphasize her freedom in meeting your expectations. She doesn't have to do anything; she can choose to act as if you don't exist. The key is that if she chooses to resist, the consequences will become a reality. Remember: You can't control the behavior, but you can control the consequences. Stay in control of what is yours and encourage her freedom to choose.
6. Negotiate what is negotiable
Let the child have some input, within parameters, on expectations and consequences. Giving on something minor may pay off, as the child will feel less helpless and more involved in her destiny. Let her know that you may adjust something later if she proves herself for some period of time. Don't budge on the non-negotiables, however. Drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, and violence are not gray areas. Many times a child will protest, "You don't do that, why should I?" This happens in many contexts, including bedtime, spending money, and free time. The reality is, however, that adults do have more freedom than kids, because they are more responsible. Responsibility brings freedom. Tell your child about that. Hold it out as an incentive to accept the boundaries. Growing up has its rewards.
7. Follow through during the summer.
Your child is on a learning curve, and learning takes many trials. Expect her not only to transgress the boundary, but also to protest the consequences many times. Be patient with yourself, too. Stay with it and follow through as consistently as you can. If you find you are not able to do that, seek help from mature friends who may be able to explore with you whether the problem is one of resources, abilities, character, or unrealistic expectations. Then you can make adjustments as needed during the summer break.
Get the help you need this summer to raise kids who take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions. Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend take you through the ins and outs of instilling the kind of character in your children that will help them lead balanced, productive, and fulfilling adult lives in Boundaries with Kids. Learn how to:
- Set limits and still be a loving parent
- Bring control to a chaotic family life
- Define age-appropriate boundaries and consequences for your kids