4 Reasons Why Boundaries and Discipline are Good for Your Child

Nov 27, 2017

As you begin setting limits and consequences with your child, she will almost certainly test, protest and express hatred. However, stick with your boundaries, be fair but consistent, and empathize with your child’s emotional reactions. She will begin accepting the reality that Mom and Dad are bigger than she is, and that unacceptable behavior is costly and painful to her.

Nevertheless, children will avoid reality as long as possible. One time at a baseball game recently, I watched a six-year-old boy talk loudly and incessantly about everything on his mind, buggy all those around him. Mom and Dad, afraid of hurting his feelings, would periodically ask him to please talk more softly. Apparently this was an old scenario for the boy; however, he knew that if he ignored them, his parents would soon give up.

Finally, a fan a couple rows back walked up to him and said, “Son, you really need to be quiet.” Shocked by this firm adult stranger, the child became much more reserved for the rest of the game. Strangely enough, Mom and Dad were not embarrassed, but more empowered to keep better tabs on their child. Getting the child’s attention is always the first step.

If all goes reasonably well, and you both survive the initial difficulties, your child will develop a healthy fear of consequences. A new thought – I need to think about what I am preparing to do. What might it cost me? – replaces the old one – I am free to do what I want when I want. This new thought is accompanied by anticipatory anxiety – a little warning light in your child’s head that helps him think through how much he wants to do whatever he is contemplating.

For many parents, this occasion represents the first significant victory in child rearing with boundaries. They have broken into their child’s omnipotent self-centered system and introduced the reality that all is not well if he isn’t careful. It takes trial and error and lots of effort to find what loses and consequences matter to the child, and it takes lots of stamina to hold the line. I must stress the fear of consequences should not be a fear of losing love. Your child needs to know you are constantly and consistently connected and emotionally there with her, no matter what the infraction. She only needs to be concerned about the loss of freedom and the possibility of pain. The message is, “I love you, but you have chosen something difficult for yourself.”

This is an early stage of motivation. Some idealistic parents may be disappointed that their child put down the toy because of “Remember last time?” rather than because of “It’s wrong” or “I don’t want to hurt you.” But remember that the law of restraints our out-of-control selves enough so that we can slow down and listen to the message of love.

During this stage, avoid setting the limits in anger or in punitiveness. Your child needs to control himself to avoid the consequence. He won’t make that connection if he is concerned about avoiding your anger or if he fears or some extreme punishment. The focus of learning consequences needs to be that the child understands that his problem is himself, not an enraged parent.

Help your child think about his future quality of life: time-outs, chores, fun and freedom. It helps him to see the issue as his behavior, not as an out-of-control mom. In seeing behavioral issues this way, several things occur for your child:

(1) He begins looking at himself rather than blaming others.
(2) He develops a sense of control and mastery.
(3) He is never without love during this learning process, and
(4) He realizes someone bigger and stronger than he – parents, friends, teachers, bosses, the police, the army – will always limit him if he refuses to limit himself.

Without these attitudes and character traits built in, your child could remain forever bound in the delusion that whatever he wants, he can have. Helping him with a healthy fear of consequences aligns him with reality and make that reality his friend instead of his nemesis.

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