The Best Boundaries Words for Kids

Boundaries with Kids

By Dr. Henry Cloud

I 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.

When my father came home, I could not wait to tell him what they had done. I told him that they had broken the light, and he asked me to show him. I led him into the den, not knowing that Sharon and her friend were still in there. I was caught. Here he was, asking me about the broken light, and there they were, watching me seal my fate as a tattletale. I do not remember what he did to them, but I can still recall what they did to me, and it was not pretty.

In general, except when it is unsafe, children need to work out their own conflicts. Let them solve their problems themselves. For example, it's okay for parents to say, "I don't know why you are telling me. You need to work it out with your brother. He's the one you're mad at." Or, "Go work it out with your sister first. If the two of you can't settle it, then I might talk to you." Do whatever you can to keep the conflict between your kids so they learn the necessary conflict resolution skills.

If the conflict is with friends, let your kids work it out. This is what they are going to have to do later in life. Talking with them about how to do conflict resolution is okay, but requiring them to do it is important. The same goes for their problems with the school and other authorities. Certainly, there are times for conferences and meetings. But take every step to have your children work out the problems they are having with the school or organization. If Mom and Dad are always there to step in with authorities and "fix" it, the child will be lost when her first employer is upset with her performance.

The problem is that we (and our kids) may have difficulty knowing what to say when we have conflict with others. We learn what to say over time, but it is a good idea to teach your children what to say and even role-play how they will say things to others when they need to set limits. They are dealing with peer pressure, hurtful kids, and strong personalities on the playground. If they are prepared, they will fare better. Here are some examples of words to arm them with:

  • "No." Period. Teach them how to say it.
  • "No, I don't feel comfortable with that."
  • "No, I don't want to."
  • "No, I won't do that."
  • "No, my parents don't allow that."
  • "No, God does not want me to do that."
  • "No, I learned that we don't touch each other's private places."
  • "No, I don't like drugs. They kill people."

These words may sound simple and somewhat trite. But, some children need to know the words ahead of time and have some practice on how to use them. Role-play with them, or find a setting or group for them that does this kind of reinforcing of boundaries.

Your child must learn to take his feelings, fears, thoughts, desires, and all of his other experiences into relationship. And if those conflicts have to do with a specific person, they need to work it out with that person whenever possible.


Get more proven advice to raise kids who take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions in Boundaries With Kids. 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. 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.

Click here to read a sample chapter, or click here to listen to an audio sample.


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