How to Set Boundaries as a Parent

Building Fences With Gates

In a world of constant change, parents have a serious responsibility to help their children stay safe and have healthy interactions while navigating relationships with other families. Parents won’t always agree on the rules and allowances they have for their children, but this doesn’t have to be a source of tension. Boundaries – the limits put in place to protect rules or allowances in various situations or interactions – can create clarity and help parents uphold family expectations. Here, we spoke with Dr. Tyler Rogers, a board-certified therapist, to learn more about why boundaries are helpful for parents and how to put them in place.

What does a good, healthy boundary look like?

A good, healthy boundary is clear and flexible. I often use the metaphor of a fence with a gate, where there are ways in and out, but it is defined. For example, let’s say a family wants to create a boundary about being kind to others. Kindness can be hard to notice in every situation and difficult for children to take and apply in various contexts. A specific boundary to set in this situation might be “we do not hit others.” Not hitting another person is the fence. A gate within the fence could be an allowance for hitting during a pillow fight when everyone participating understands the game and has consented to play.

graphic illustration of mother hugging her child

Why are boundaries especially important and helpful for parents?

Boundaries let our children and family unit know what is allowed in, what stays out, what is to be kept in, and what is allowed out. The “what” in this case can be things such as thoughts, emotions, behaviors, words, time, or things. Healthy boundaries promote clarity about the proper place to express, discuss, or use these things to create respectful interactions between people or institutions. They help parents guide and empower their children to navigate their world effectively, even when a parent cannot be present.

When is the best time to set a boundary?

Timing for boundaries can vary. When entering a new situation, it may be easier to set some limits about how to behave in the situation before entering that situation. If you get into the situation and need to adjust, you certainly may. You can give your child some boundaries about being a visitor in another person’s home before they visit. You may learn of something after their visit that may cause you to revisit a conversation with your child about new, modified expectations for visiting another person’s home.

Do you have any advice for a parent setting a boundary with another parent for the first time?

As our world continues to change, we will probably need to become more willing than we have been to enter into conversations with other parents about media use, weapons, and nutrition. The increasing amount of variance in culture from home to home means we either have to be more upfront about some issues or be more accepting when our children are exposed to things outside of the home that we see differently. I think the best thing to do when setting a boundary with another parent is to be curious and ask questions about their boundaries or views on topics. Their “fence” may have a good reason for being the way it is, and while you may not agree with it, you may find the “gate” by asking questions first.

How should a parent respond if another parent pushes back on a boundary?

If another parent pushes back on your boundary, it may be good to suggest an alternative. Again, good boundaries are clear and flexible, so if a parent wants you to concede and allow your child to do something that you are not in agreement with, you can acknowledge the general desire, which in many cases may be connection and relationship, and propose an alternative. You can also get curious and try to understand why they feel so strongly about this issue, which may make it easier to find an alternative solution.

Picture of Tyler Rogers

Tyler Rogers

PhD, LMFT, LPC, NCC; Scout Counseling, PLLC

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