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Healthy Boundaries

Does NO Mean GO?  Learn how to establish boundaries kids can live with

by Dr. Sandy Gluckman | Contributor

“Boundaries” – a word that is like a red rag to a bull for parents as well as kids.  By definition, a boundary in the parent-child relationship marks the point between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  When we say, “That’s it!  You just crossed the line,” we mean that the child’s behavior has become unacceptable according to our expectations. Setting boundaries is a fundamentally important skill for raising children. Yet it is one of the parenting skills that so many moms and dads struggle with.

There are numerous significant benefits to having healthy boundaries, two of which are:

1. With clearly communicated and agreed boundaries there should be less stress and conflict because there is little to argue about. Teens will test the boundaries, but that is part of being a teenager, and staying firm is part of your role as a parent.

2. When you establish boundaries, not only do you value yourself and what is important to you, but you’re also teaching your children to value themselves. As your kids watch you calmly and successfully establish your personal boundaries, they learn that it is okay for them to do this for themselves in their own lives. This is a powerful skill for them to take into life with them – one that will set them up for success.

I can be good to both you and me through healthy boundaries

Healthy boundaries create relationships in which parents can be good to their kids as well as to themselves. Problems arise when parents have a false belief that having boundaries is unkind, unloving or selfish.  In fact, it is the very opposite.  Establishing healthy boundaries is the best way of showing love and respect. Only by maintaining healthy boundaries can you demonstrate real love for yourself and for others.

Are you one of these parents?

Over the many years of working with families I have seen that there are two kinds of parents who find it difficult to create boundaries and to stand firm by them once finally established.  Are you one of these?

Enablers. These are parents who want to make sure their children have everything they didn’t have and who want to protect their kids from every problem and emotion. This creates a sense of over-entitlement and sometimes lack of self-confidence or inflated self-esteem in the children.

Pleasers.  Some parents focus so much on pleasing their kids that they don’t focus on taking care of themselves. They demonstrate self-denial and relentless caretaking, sometimes to the point where they virtually invite their kids to take advantage of them while often tolerating disrespectful treatment.

Telltale signs that you need better boundaries.  Even though you don’t want to, you find yourself…

• Constantly telling your children what they are doing wrong

• Warning your kids about what will happen if they …

• Preaching about what they should and shouldn’t do

• Feeling you’re not getting the respect you deserve

• Criticizing

Do you want to become a parent who establishes healthy boundaries?  Here’s how.

1. If you struggle with boundaries, know why. Are you an enabler? A pleaser? Did you see your parents do this and are you now doing the same to your kids?

2. Be sure that your boundaries are healthy. Healthy boundaries are not boundaries designed to make parents’ lives easier. They are established to teach good habits that will guide children for the rest of their lives.

3. Boundaries need to be clear, specific, and clearly communicated. You need to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it before doing so.

4. Establish only those boundaries you are prepared to enforce. Focus only on a few issues that will have lasting value to your children – not rules for blind obedience.

5. To work, boundaries have to be consistent and both parents have to be on the same page.

6. Use the KISS Principle. Choose a few simple rules appropriate to your situation with your child – too many rules become frustrating and cumbersome to implement.

7. Successful enforcement of boundaries is based on FEW WORDS. What annoys parents the most is their children’s excuses, arguments and complaints.  It is then too easy to become involved in counter-arguments and counter-logic, to start cajoling, explaining, rescuing or threatening. Now the game is on. The more you talk the more you are likely to get words back, and all that you are doing is actually reinforcing the very negotiating and whining behavior you don’t want.

When you remember that you are offering your child a gift for life by setting healthy boundaries, it becomes so easy to do.

Editor’s Note: For more information about Dr. Gluckman and her “Parents Take Charge” workshops, go to www.parentstakecharge.com.

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