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​​​​Parenting Principles Issue12345

Setting Boundaries and Expectations

When Robert Frost wrote, “good fences make good neighbors,” he was being ironic, pointing out that barriers actually tend to alienate one neighbor from another. When it comes to parenting, however, even Frost would agree that good boundaries make good children. That’s because witho​ut boundaries, children will keep pushing the limits of what they can get away with.

As a parent, you must understand that if you want your children to behave a certain way, you have to set clear, specific expectations for their behavior, and there is no wiggle room. For instance, instead of telling your teen, “I want you home early,” say, “I want you home no later than eight o’clock.” That way, the word “early” isn’t up for interpretation. More general, age appropriate expectations might include the following:

  • Always clean up after yourself.
  • No cursing in the house.
  • Electronics (smartphones, tablets, video games, etc.) are a privilege, not a right, and they can be taken away at any time in response to negative behavior.
  • No social media activity until ALL homework is completed.
  • Drug or alcohol use will NEVER be tolerated.
  • When a girlfriend/boyfriend is over, you cannot be alone in your room with her/him.

The best time to discuss and agree on these rules and expectations is during a family meeting, while everyone is in a calm and receptive mood. They should not be brought up in response to a negative situation, when tempers may be flaring.

You can set and practice certain fundamental expectations for your children early on. These may include following instructions, accepting consequences and accepting “No” for an answer. From there, you can progress to general household rules and expectations, such as those mentioned previously, as well as situation-specific expectations, such as coming home at a certain time.

By setting boundaries and expectations, you give your children the tools they need to behave appropriately. Without these boundaries, children will simply keep pushing until something negative happens.

Teaching Activity

Discuss Expectations and Boundaries for Using an Electronic Device

Pick a technology device your child enjoys using, then discuss safe and secure boundaries and expectations, and put these and any necessary consequences into place. For instance, discuss the appropriate use of a smartphone or tablet. Let your child know that using that item is a privilege, not a right, and you can take it away at any time as a consequence for negative behavior. Also, make it clear to your child that this device is always open to your monitoring (no secret passwords allowed), and that you have the right to remove any questionable apps or content.

Parenting Strategy

Teaching Self-Control

Discussions about and enforcement of rules and behavioral expectations you set for your child can sometimes cause him/her to get upset and lose self-control. That’s when you can use the strategy of teaching self-control. Teaching self-control happens in two parts: helping your child calm down to reduce the intensity of the situation and then doing follow-up teaching that addresses your child’s original inappropriate behavior that led ​to his/her loss of ​self-control (e.g., arguing about a rule, swearing, tipping over a chair).

  1. Calming Down
    1. Describe the problem behavior.
    2. Offer options to calm down.
    3. Allow time for the child to calm down.
  2. Follow-Up Teaching
    1. Describe the alternative positive behavior.
    2. Practice.
    3. Give a negative consequence for the original problem behavior.

Coming up in Issue 5

Developing Good Communication with Your Children


At the Table


Modeling Behaviors

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