“I do so much for my children, and they just don’t appreciate it. They think only about themselves. Sometimes, I feel like I’m here simply to give them what they want. Why don’t they think about me?”
If you’re thinking this way, there’s a good chance you have not set clear personal boundaries.
Personal boundaries differ from rules, or limits. Boundaries refer to what you will or will not do, whereas rules, or limits, address what you want your children to do or not do. With boundaries, you’re controlling your own behavior in response to what your child does rather than directly trying to control your child’s behavior.
Here are some examples of boundaries:
“I’m not able to drive you to the store now.”
“I will make dinner after the kitchen is cleaned.”
“I’ll give you an answer after you ask nicely.”
“It’s too late for me to play a game with you.”
“I won’t pay $70 for shoes. I’ll give you $35 toward the shoes.”
Each boundary statement focuses on your needs and actions.
Rather than trying to exercise power over your child, you are taking control over yourself. In both approaches, the end goal is the same. However, the boundary-setting approach is more respectful to both you and your child and avoids power struggles, as long as you stay the course. If you start out with a boundary statement but then give in to negative reactions from your kids, you’ll end up in an argument. At the start, boundary-setting requires courage and builds confidence over time as you see positive results.
Here are the same examples from above stated in a rule format where the parent is trying to control the child’s behavior:
“I wish you had told me earlier that you need a ride. Now dinner will be late.”
“Clean up the kitchen now.”
“Don’t talk to me in that rude tone.”
“If you had gotten ready earlier, then we would’ve had time to play a game.”
“How can you expect me to pay $70 for shoes?”
Non-boundary responses usually blame and hurt the child, which leads to a revenge cycle of the child hurting you back. This cycle is followed by an out-of-control power struggle. Choosing personal boundary-setting statements ensures that your needs are respected and you feel appreciated.
It can be hard to set a boundary that denies or delays your child’s wants and needs. As you begin to implement boundary-setting, there will be some pushback from your children because they are accustomed to you putting your needs second. Learning how to balance whose needs are being met can be tricky. As soon as you start to feel unappreciated or disrespected, it’s time to put yourself first more often through boundary-setting.
Putting others’ needs first and being altruistic come more naturally for some of us than for others. If your child tends to use their strength to fight for their own needs, it’s imperative that you set clear boundaries in a calm and loving manner.
Be careful not to judge your child or label them as “self-centered.” Rather, see your child as proud and guide them toward restraining some of their own needs and putting others first. Instead of saying, “Don’t be so selfish,” which is hurtful, realize that when you set boundaries, you’re teaching your child to become aware of others’ needs, wait, and do for others first before meeting their own needs.
Some children want to be overprotected and need your strong and loving boundaries as well. When you say, “I’m not going to put on your clothes for you. I know you can do it,” you are stating your boundary and also your confidence in your child’s ability to succeed without your help. If whining follows, repeat your boundary and add what will come after getting dressed. Don’t engage in an argument. Often, it can be helpful to leave the situation with words like, “I’ll see you at the breakfast table.”
Here are some parental self-talk statements to remind you of the importance of boundary-setting:
“It’s essential for my child to learn how to contribute to the welfare of the family. My boundaries help teach this value.”
“I can handle an upset child who doesn’t get his way. The upsets will diminish when I am firm about my personal boundaries.”
“I won’t allow myself to feel manipulated. I will clearly state what I will or will not do and not change my mind.”
Teaching how to express appreciation is important as well. Read How. Studies have show that people who feel appreciation have greater joy in life….
©2016 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Family Success Coach since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parenting coaching sessions. She writes the Middle School Mom column for the Parenting on the Peninsula magazine. She works with parents of 4 – 25 year-old children.
To learn how Cynthia can help you solve your specific challenges, contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, , or 650. 679.8138 to have a complementary 45-minute discovery session. Why keep suffering? It’s time to change!