Setting Boundaries

Boundaries in Parenting, Integrated Behavioral Health Psychological Services, Kalamazoo, MI

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Without endings, there are no beginnings.  Without darkness, there is no dawn.  Without work, leisure might not be quite so sweet.  Without sadness, can we truly feel happiness?  Paradoxes abound in life.  So too, does the inevitable, irrefutable paradox of time. That is, if time could be stopped, there would be no pressure to live in the now, and there would be no motivation, no deadlines. 

All the paradoxes we can find have life lessons embedded in them.  Let’s take endings and beginnings.  January is the time for beginnings.  Why is it that people make New Year’s resolutions?  Maybe because January is the reset button, sluff off last year, last year’s habits and last year’s old stuff.  Without endings there would not be beginnings.  

Here’s another paradox: as parents we talk, talk, talk at our kids—pick up your coat, did you get your homework done? Clean up this mess, feed the dog, get your shoes on.  Less talking at your kids is more effective.  Now, let me be clear, this applies to typically developing children over age 5.   

Set a firm boundary (after electronics are off): “We leave in 2 minutes, with or without shoes.”  Yes, you can leave without shoes on your child’s feet.  What? Your feet are cold? Huh, I wonder why.  Now, actually leave in 2 minutes, not 5 or 10.  If not, you just taught your children that 2 minutes doesn’t really mean 2 minutes.  Set a timer for 2 minutes and if you aren’t ready, say “I’m not ready, two more minutes.” Set timer.

“Clean up this mess” is vague.  “Pick up those Legos.”  “Where are my Legos?”  I picked them up and put them away until tomorrow when you can have them back.  Next time when I ask you to pick up your Legos, you know I will take them until the next day.  DON’T take things away without a short timeframe to get it back (longer than a few days is ineffective), this makes kids feel like they are “so bad” they can’t do anything right, it makes you look arbitrary, and you strip yourself of authority and predictability. 

“Is your homework done?”  What is your child going to say?  “No, no I don’t have my homework done.”  You set him up to lie to you, then you blame him for lying.  Very few children are able to manage their own homework before the end of middle school or high school.  The alternative: “Can I help you with your homework?”  If bringing homework home is a problem, contact the teacher to see how you can check for homework assignments.  If you had to bring work home and do it at home, would you want to do that?  Neither does your child.  Of course, she is going to avoid it.

The benefits are that you talk less, and teach your child to think and plan.

Sheryl Lozowski-Sullivan, MPH, PhD.

Printed in the Good News paper, January 2019

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