Monday, November 21, 2005

Setting boundaries is a teaching process |

One of the more difficult aspects of teaching children to become adults is helping children to take ownership of right and wrong. Recently, was was talking to a professional about first year college students. Too many of those student find themselves in trouble because their voice of moral reason has been removed from their lives. Most college students find that they have much more freedom than living at home. How they use that freedom is greatly dependant upon how much they personally own the moral system their parents tried to teach to them.

"Setting boundaries is a teaching process" is an article published on It offers a helpful guide for developing boundaries in children through different stages of life. If appropriate boundaries are taught at each developmental stage, presumably children will take ownership of the values that the boundaries demonstrate.

How to set boundaries through the stages
Even babies should be stopped from doing something wrong. Wag your finger and say no, or find another nonviolent way to convey displeasure. Never, ever shake a baby, which can kill, blind or cause brain damage.

Toddlers are inherently curious and lack impulse control, so they have to be reigned in often. Encourage their natural inclination toward exploration, but teach them how to do it safely and at appropriate times.

Most parenting experts oppose corporal punishment. Among other things, those who are spanked are more likely to be violent themselves. If you do spank, limit to a few strokes with a bare hand and avoid the face, neck and head. Spanking that leaves bruises, draws blood or breaks bones is illegal and abusive.

Elementary school
Children at this stage are slightly more independent, but still need close supervision. Go over the rules frequently, and remind children of established boundaries when you see violations looming. Punish swiftly after an infraction, and clearly state the reason for punishment. The punishment should fit the crime and be applied consistently.

Gradually increase freedom to test adherence to family rules when children are on their own. If the children prove trustworthy, reward them for good behavior. If they do not, decrease freedom. Discuss your position on drinking, drugs and pre-marital sex often, and be sure children are adequately supervised, especially during after-school hours.

Gradually shift teens to independence, but remain vigilant on such matters as chores, curfews, homework and grades. If you have strong feelings about clothing, piercing and hairstyles, make sure your teenager knows that. Establish clear boundaries related to drinking, driving, dating, drugs and sex, and enforce limits consistently.

-- Compiled by Courtenay Edelhart (Published on

[Note: I don't agree fully with the author's corporal punishment analysis. There are still many parenting experts who believe corporal punishment, when used in the right context can be an appropriate expression of love. Dr. Tim Kimmil offers some questions to help the family think through the issue of corporal punishment.]