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Life Notes: Setting Healthy Limits
by Erin Rocket, NCC, LPC, LMFT
As individuals and as productive community members, we live within healthy limits and abide by a range of societal expectations. While imagination knows no limits, the foundation of healthy boundaries and respect for authority is set during that magical developmental stage known as early childhood.
Groundwork for healthy boundaries is set during preschool years. As soon as children understand the concept of “no” a parent’s task for modeling healthy limits has begun. This process requires simplicity, moderation and consistency. Simple requests, specific rules, and age-appropriate communication are vital. A parent’s definition of “clean your room” may be one idea, while a child’s interpretation may be completely different. Clarification of requests and rules serves to eliminate much conflict and confusion.
Parents practice moderation by prioritizing issues. Enforcing rules requires effort, and the anger or frustration of an exhausted parent is not necessarily a sufficient motivator. If Billy and Suzie do not properly handle dirty laundry, a natural consequence is that their favorite jeans won’t be clean for school. Whose problem is that, the parent’s or the child’s? Sometimes children must learn from the consequences of their choices. If parents have complicated rules, they must be prepared to enforce those expectations constantly, or household routine will digress into chaos.
The most essential parenting concept is consistency, which fosters healthy relationships in general. Whatever rules, consequences and privileges are set into place, these must be followed. If parents or authority figures do not consistently follow guidelines, children learn that adults are inherently untrustworthy. This faulty belief system paves the way for a disruptive walk into adulthood.
So what is the moral of this parenting tale? Be an over-rigid and authoritarian parent? Not at all – take a deep breath, pick battles carefully, be consistent, and enjoy your children.
The Life Notes articles are written by staff of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home and are published in The Ruston Daily Leader.