Creating Rules and Boundaries with Your Family

By Kami Loyd

Like most families, my kids are constantly testing whatever rules or boundaries I set. If I tell them they have to eat a vegetable with dinner, they try to convince me that ketchup is a vegetable. 

Our family pattern seems to be a never-ending loop of parents setting boundaries, kids testing and sometimes breaking boundaries, and then everyone dealing with the consequences for the broken boundaries. Thankfully, my children are still young and we are dealing with consequences like timeout for yelling in the house or throwing toys. 

Sometimes, I feel like they should understand already that they will get hurt when they play on the stairs or that we can’t poke the baby in the eye, but they don’t so boundaries must be set. But how can we as parents know what boundaries to set with our kids and when? This is a difficult task for a parent to undertake even though we understand that boundaries are important. 

Here are some tips for setting rules and boundaries with your children:

Be clear and consistent. First, we as parents need to set clear boundaries. Dr. Jennifer Hartstein says:

A rule with tons of layers and too many details is impossible for a child to follow. State the rule clearly, and frame it in a positive way … Using positive language encourages learning and shows children what you want them to do. Negative language can feel punishing and does not encourage change.

If your child is told they must complete their homework before watching television, you shouldn’t change the boundary because you want to watch a Disney movie. Even when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or annoying for you, you must keep the boundaries clear.

Explain the consequences. Next, we need to make sure our children understand the consequences of crossing the boundaries we have set. Consequences need to fit the broken boundary and the age of the child. Although timeout is effective for most three-year-olds for throwing a toy across the room, it probably will not be as effective for the sixteen-year-old who has broken their curfew. Our children need to know before the boundary is broken what the consequences of the actions will be so they can make the choice whether or not to abide by the boundaries we have set. 

Involve children in the process. One thing that can be especially beneficial as we set boundaries is to have our children help us set the boundaries and the consequences that will be incurred if they break the rules. Older children can particularly benefit from discussing and setting boundaries and consequences. This tactic may take some getting used to for both parents and children because it goes against most parents’ norms. But as we work with our children in this way, they may be more willing to abide by the boundaries we have set. 

Be patient with your kids. As important as the above steps are, we as parents must remember that children will test the boundaries. Boundary testing is part of children growing up. This is because children want independence and one of the ways they practice independence is by testing boundaries. As parents, we must remember this fact as we enforce the consequences that we have established. 

At times it may be discouraging to have children repeatedly disobeying expressed boundaries, but it is essential to remember that the boundaries we have set will help our children throughout their lives. Boundaries and rules are an essential part of life and teaching our children this principle can save them from the harsh consequences adult-life can dole out. 

For amazing discussions and activities that help connect you to your kids, check out 30 Days to a Stronger Child, available on Amazon. The book includes great questions, lessons, and challenges to help your kids learn to fill their emotional, intellectual, social, physical and spiritual “accounts.” Some of the topics include; respect, accountability, positive self-talk, empathy, addiction, gratitude, critical thinking, and many more–30 lessons in all.

Kami Loyd received her bachelors of Marriage and Family from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She and her husband have been married for four years, and she is the proud mother of four children. Her interests include reading, board games, and most of all her family. She is passionate about helping her children and others find joy in family life.


Hartstein, J. (2017, June 26) The Importance of Setting Limits for Your Child. Retrieved December 26, 2017, from 

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