Fewer Fights and Better Boundaries: 3 Steps to Seeing Improved Behavior in Your Child

Aug 11, 2019

Children need more than a parent who will talk about boundaries. They need a parent who will be boundaries. This means that in whatever situation arises, you respond to your child with empathy, firmness, freedom, and consequences. But, sometimes parents contribute to the problem by trying to justify their kid’s behavior, rather than addressing the issue.

Setting boundaries with kids isn’t about “making” your child do anything. It is much more about structuring your child’s existence so that he experiences the consequences of his behavior, thus leading him to be more responsible and caring. Use the following three key steps to help begin the process with your kids:

Step 1: Acknowledge that your child is not perfect.

All kids are immature sinners; this is our human condition. Some parents have difficulty with this first step. They deny their child’s behavior. They rationalize genuine problems. For example, smarting off becomes a cute sense of humor. Laziness becomes fatigue. Intrusiveness becomes high-spiritedness.

Parents rationalize their child’s problems for many reasons. Some do it to avoid guilty feelings. Some don’t want their own perfectionism challenged. Some feel as if their child is being victimized. Others don’t want to be embarrassed. Still others don’t want to go through the effort of disciplining. Parents need to look at the possibility that they might be sacrificing their child’s well-being to protect their own sense of comfort and well-being.

Step 2: Identify problems that aren’t really problems

After acknowledging that your child isn’t perfect, the next step is to identify that some of your child’s behavior problems aren’t really the problem. The action or attitude driving you crazy isn’t the real issue. It is the symptom of another issue, which in many cases is a boundary problem. Your child’s behavior may be driven by something broken or undeveloped within her character. The symptom alerts you to the inner problem.

Don’t just react to the symptom, or you will be guaranteeing more problems later. Parents often have a knee-jerk reaction in a crisis, then back off from their job when the crisis resolves. A boundary-less child will have symptoms until she develops boundaries. Here are some examples of problems that aren’t really the problem:

Outward Problem: Bad grades
Boundary Problem: Lack of concern about consequences

Outward Problem: Controls other kids
Boundary Problem: Lack of respect for other’s boundaries

Outward Problem: Doesn’t listen to instruction
Boundary Problem: Lack of fear of consequences

Outward Problem: Defiant attitude
Boundary Problem: Lack of boundaries or entitlement

Step 3: Realize that time does not heal problems

The third step you will need to come to terms with is that time does not heal all. Many parents avoid addressing boundary problems because someone told them, “Just wait it out. They’ll get older.” Yes, your kids will get older. But, how many 42-year-olds do you know who are getting older but still have no boundaries? Time is only a context for healing. It is not the healing process itself. Infections need more than time; they need antibiotics.

In fact, avoiding dealing with problems in your child simply gives the Devil more opportunity to stunt his growth (see Ephesians 4:26-27). Time is a necessary but not sufficient condition for boundary growth and repair. You also need lots of love, grace, and truth for your child. Get involved in the repair process. With nothing but time, things do not improve, but break down further.

The words “parenting” and “problems” sometimes seem to be redundancies. You may simply be preventing problems in your child. Or you may have a troublesome situation that is breaking your heart. Yet, God has anticipated it, is fully aware of it, and wants to help you to help your child develop boundaries. He has provided hope for your and your child’s future that is real and helpful.

Don’t give up on your child, even as they enter adulthood. You are the only mom or dad they will ever have; no one in the world has the position of influence in their heart that you do.

Need a safe place to relate to others about this topic? Join one of Dr. Henry Cloud's Boundaries Peer Groups. 

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