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Boundaries with Children

Teenage girl in a messy room.

Over the years of working with parents and adolescents, I continue to see the struggle that parents have with setting boundaries with their children. The struggle comes when we are overwhelmed, tired, emotional and unprepared to handle the conflict. One of the tools I continually help parents with is setting enforceable consequences in a contract with their children. When kids know the boundaries and the consequences, they have less room to manipulate and parents are less likely to respond emotionally. We are all guilty of some version of walking into your child’s messy bedroom at the end of a long week and threatening to throw away everything and never buy them another thing. Ever. While we can all relate to that scenario, the continued pattern creates so much frustration and no progress.

The best place to start is to identify what battles you are continually fighting with your child. It may be a messy room, arguing with siblings, getting in trouble at school, screen time, staying out past curfew, etc. Next, make a contract with your child that they can visually see and commit to. A contract should be specific in your expectations. For example, chores or routines that they are expected to maintain in their space should be discussed in detail. Kids should know what you expect from them and not have to guess what a "clean room" really means. Then the enforceable consequence for it not being kept up will be determined. Enforceable means that it is within your power to maintain and it is not vague or so extreme that you know you won't uphold it. Should you need to enforce a consequence, you can quickly, and without emotion, refer to the contract. For example: Your room is messy, you lose 30 minutes of screen time. That is enforceable and decided without tempers flaring. If your child does “throw a fit” you will have a plan for that reaction. The situations and consequences will change as your children get older, but the model for clearly communicating expectations remains effective through the teenage years.

If boundaries are hard for you to enforce and for your children to respond to, I would love to work with you to help make this process more manageable in your home.

This podcast on Boundaries talks about this topic in a very relatable way. The entire series is so helpful, but this one is a daily struggle for so many families.

Are My Kids on Track Podcast, Episode 8, Boundaries

Kelsey Dennis, LCSW


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