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Setting Boundaries With Kids And Teens - Nathan Wallis

06 Nov 2023

Parents Who Don't Set Boundaries

Boundaries are hugely important in parenting. They give children an edge to their world, and teach them what's acceptable. Our resident parenting expert and neuroscience educator, Nathan Wallis, explains how parents can work with their children and teens to set boundaries.

Setting boundaries for kids

Growing up is all about finding a sense of agency and your own voice, so a vital part in setting boundaries with your children is making them part of the process. Sit down with your child and ask them what they think an appropriate boundary is. From here you can negotiate and find something that works for the both of you.

It's also important to remember that boundaries have consequences - not punishments.

For example, you may agree that if your child crosses a boundary then they lose their phone for 24 hours. If your child violates that boundary, they have had the foresight and knowledge that this will be the consequence.

Grow a backbone!

Something handy to keep in mind is the concept of backbone parenting. A backbone gives you support and structure, but it's responsive and flexible moment to moment. It shows that you don't just tell your children what to do, but that you're open to negotiation.

Role model healthy habits

When teaching your kids how to respect the boundaries of others, the best approach is through role modeling. For instance, our kids pick up on how we treat our partner, or other people in our whānau and use it as a template, so be mindful to lead by example.

Setting boundaries for teens

When it comes to setting boundaries for teens, things become a little more tricky. While with primary school kids parents have a lot more say, by the time your kids get to adolescence, you want to create a partnership with your teen.

In this stage it's important to create realistic consequences. No one is able to police their kids all the time, so it's better to make consequences that are easy for you to enforce.

What if they’re pushing the boundaries?

In situations where your teens are consistently testing a boundary, take a step back and look at how you set that boundary. Was your teen consulted and did they agree that this was fair? Talk it out and give them an opportunity to explain why they're not following this boundary.

However, in some situations your teen may be testing a boundary to see if it will be enforced. In this case, it's an opportunity for you to calmly and consistently follow through, and make sure the consequence you set in place does actually happen.

Nathan Wallis is a Neuroscience Educator, nib health insurance parenting expert and regular media commentator. He hosts sold-out learning events for parents up and down the country (and abroad), talking to different stages of child development – including the first 1000 days - and how parents can support their children in order to help achieve the best possible outcomes.