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Setting Limits and Boundaries for Children

Setting Limits and Boundaries for Children

Generally children need to know where they stand and what the rules are

As children hurtle along the path of growth and development, one of the main roles that parents play is to provide boundaries that help to contain and guide them. Some boundaries are physical, and already exist, like the pavement at the side of the road. Others are social – “stop hurting your little sister…” etc.

If adequate boundaries are in place, these help to provide a framework within which a child feels safe and supported.

Boundaries provide guidelines for behaviour and help children to learn what is socially acceptable and socially unacceptable behaviour. They learn self control and self discipline and begin to set limits for themselves. These children are more likely to grow up into responsible, socially and emotionally intelligent adults than those children who have been set few or no limits. By setting limits on their behaviour we help children to learn an acceptable code of behaviour.

However, this is easier said than done! We need to know how to define where the boundaries are at each age and stage of development specific to each child in the family.  These limits should be clear, and reasonable.  Much will depend on your own values, cultural beliefs and individual style of parenting. Allowing your teenager more freedom by degrees, yet maintaining firm boundaries according to age and maturity, helps positive change to happen at a rate that they can manage.

Being able to talk and LISTEN to your teenager about the everyday things that concern them will make it easier to negotiate boundaries. Make sure that your teenager knows that when you disagree, it’s the ISSUE you are at odds with not with them personally. If however issues become personality clashes then there is a solution.  If fights feel like a terrifying roundabout, take action. STOP it and get off…

Some parents feel that it is important to befriend the child in order to get on with them and to better understand what makes them ‘tick’. Our children are NOT our friends.  We can be “friendly” with them but that is not the same thing as being a friend. The parent’s responsibility is to nurture,  empower, guide and support them. How can you do all those things and set limits when friendship is what you seek?  Both parents and children need friends who are their own age and at a similar level of maturity. 

It is best to be as open as possible in most situations. The information should be age and stage appropriate so that they can process it usefully. It is important to think about the issues you are discussing first. Perhaps you should discuss them with family members, other parents and friends.  If necessary look for professional advice from books and experts.  If it is a health related issue, talk to a health professional.  Above all, know more about the issue and what the general limits are before you decide to take a stand or decide tackle an issue.

There are gender differences when communicating with teenagers. Teenage boys are less inclined to communicate with adults and may be given to replying with grunts and gestures. Don’t take this personally.   Be supportive and be the LISTENER and not the talker in these situations. They will ask for your point of view if they want it. Look out for signs of drugs, bullying or depression as these issues need to be addressed urgently. Girls, on the other hand, can be more communicative and will talk if they feel safe, and not judged by their parents.  Again, look for signs of relationships or behaviours that may not be healthy.

Make an effort to change the way you talk to your teenagers. Try and be there when they are at home. Remind them that you care, without words… a hand on their shoulder, anything to just say “I’m here”. Chat without prying; tell them things you like or admire about them. Teenagers still need from their parents things they needed when they were younger: love, support, encouragement, nurture, acceptance, appreciation, understanding and ATTENTION.

They need to know that :

  • we love and care about them
  • we are interested in them
  • we are on THEIR SIDE, even if we don’t always agree with them..

Part of being a teenager is pulling away from you and learning how to be an independent adult.

This can mean that there are times when they don’t want to listen to you, or talk to you, or even BE with you.

Your aim as the parent of a teenager is to keep all channels of communication OPEN.

Lastly, children have a natural desire to cooperate. When they feel we have understood what they need, and can understand us in turn, they are motivated to change their behaviour


Dinaz Engineer is a parenting counsellor and trainer with over twelve years experience as a counsellor for the UKs national parenting charity, Parentline Plus.

Over the past decade, she has qualified and put into practice tried, tested and accredited counselling techniques and the latest professional thinking, all designed to help people solve problems, change behaviours and become confident parents.From one-to-one, counseling with parents to outreach into schools she uses practical parenting skills, role-play, advice, discussion and facilitation skills.

Her services cover all aspects of parenting, with a particular focus on teenagers, their behaviour and discipline, managing a work/life balance and building family togetherness.

For help with overcoming behaviour problems, speak with Dinaz Engineer on

0906 199 4610

£1.02/min. Network rates vary. 18+. T&Cs at SP: Greatvine.com 0207 440 9060


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