Lately, I’ve been reading a book called Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. For those unfamiliar with the book, it’s basically an extremely popular how-to guide on how to set boundaries as a Christian. In this blog post, I’m going to highlight some of the parenting advice given in the book.
Children should be allowed to have boundaries-Not allowing a child to say no “handicaps that child for life.” Children who aren’t ever allowed to say no, especially when they’re uncomfortable, end up basing their boundaries on what others want and expect from them.
Children learn boundaries in different stages-In between five and ten months, babies realize that they are different individuals from their mothers and begin to develop curiosity. During early toddlerhood, children take their first steps towards independence by practicing doing things on their own. Between eighteen months and three years, children begin to use the word no frequently because they have discovered that they are not all-powerful and can’t do everything themselves.
How parents SHOULDN’T handle boundaries-Townsend and Cloud write that parents shouldn’t withdraw in hurt or exhibit hostility when children set boundaries because children will then avoid setting them due to the negative reaction they receive. Similarly, setting too many or too few limits on one’s children will result in an adult who has dysfunctional ways of relating to the world around him or her. Inconsistent limits will confuse children. Inflicting trauma on children will cause massive wounds that will make setting boundaries impossible or close to impossible for children as adults.
Sometimes roles are reversed-Occasionally, the parent-child relationship will be turned upside-down, with the child looking after the parent instead of the other way around. The Bible does say that adult children should take care of their aging parents. However, adult children should take into account whether their elderly parents are actually in need, and how much resources can be allocated to them.
Set boundaries with children early on. The sooner children learn boundaries, the more time and practice they will have to set them.
Setting boundaries consists of both positive and negative boundaries-Positive discipline is taking the initiative to explain to children the positive effects that will follow having boundaries. Negative discipline is when children experience consequences for failing to stay within those boundaries (for example, losing electronic privileges for a day when they don’t go to bed on time).
Children have boundary needs for different reasons-Children need to have boundaries in order to protect themselves, take responsibility for their needs, have a sense of control and choice, delay gratification, and respect others’ limits.
Children need different kinds of boundary training at different ages-During their five months, infants should be able to form close attachments with their parents. Between five and ten months, babies should be encouraged to explore their surroundings, but always with the option of returning to the parent. Three to five year old children will start to become aware of their sex, so parents understand that children may become attached to the same-sex parent while competing with the opposite-sex parent. Children aged six to eleven should be guided in setting their own boundaries and practicing delayed gratification so they will internalize it. Eleven to eighteen year olds need parents who will allow them opportunities to set their own boundaries as much as possible to ensure that they will be able to make a smooth transition into adult life.
There are certain criteria that should be considered when parents are looking at forms of discipline-Whatever discipline model parents choose to use, the consequences should increase children’s sense of control and responsibility, be age appropriate, and be related to the seriousness of any infractions. Parents should also remember that boundaries are meant to use an internal motivation to produce self-induced consequences.
Parents should set technology boundaries with teens-Above all, Cloud advises, you should know your children if you want to set effective digital boundaries with them. Parents should trust their teenagers, but also expect them to prove themselves worthy of that trust. Lastly, know that while teens should be allowed to have digital privacy, parents are entitled to invade that privacy if they suspect that their teens are involved in something dangerous.
Reference:  Cloud, Henry and Townsend, John (1992, 2017).Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Updated and Expanded). Zondervan.