Parenting After Separation:
Boundaries and Consequences
Having laid the foundation of improving the relationship with your child, in this module we are moving on to managing the behaviours through setting, and sticking to boundaries.
Video Transcript: Boundaries and Consequences
In the earlier video about “Special Time” we touched on the fact that many parents come to us about their children’s behavioural problems, but that we focus first on building the relationship before moving on to tackling the problem behaviour.
We have now covered the relationship-building skills in special time, child-led play, specific praise, clear instructions and Rewards & Incentives.
Together these tools create a strong, supportive connection with your child. So now it is time to move on to tackling the problem behaviour by setting – and sticking to – boundaries. this means making it clear what behaviour we expect and what will happen if they don’t respect them.
Boundaries make children, even older children and teenagers, feel safe. Without them children don’t know how far to push their behaviour or when to stop. This can make them feel insecure and leads to challenging behaviour. For a toddler their brain is still developing and it is natural that the world revolves around them. But as they get older boundaries help children learn how to behave towards others, what behaviour is ok and what is not ok.
Your end goal as a parent is to provide them with a safe base from which to explore the world and as they get older to eventually get them to a point where they start to be able to set limits for themselves.
How to Set them
So we need to think about what boundaries are important to you as a family, how you create those boundaries, and what happens if those boundaries are broken. Many families prioritise safety and also how to treat others so for example you may decide that in your family, it is never ok to ride a bike without a helmet or to call someone an idiot. We don’t recommend having lots of boundaries in the house. Instead just pick what’s most important for you your family.
But instead of listing out what they can’t do, think of the positive opposites so instead of saying, for example, “No shouting”, say “indoor voices”. Instead of “stop hitting” ask for “kind hands”
With younger children sometimes we can distract them from a tantrum by giving them a choice. So if they are making a fuss about getting dressed you could say “would you like to wear the red jumper or the blue jumper”.
We need to explain to our children what behaviour we expect and what will happen if they break the boundary we have set. And also model that behaviour yourself, so if you don’t want your children to shout down the stairs at you, don’t shout up the stairs at them!
For example, ‘you can ride your scooter 2 lamposts ahead of me and then you must stop so I can still see you’. If you go too far, then you must scoot next to me and I will hold the handlebar”.
Children will always push the boundaries And we expect them to do that.
So if they do scoot far ahead out of your sight, you can say ‘you have gone too far, now you must scoot next to me and I will hold the handlebar’.
We can reiterate our boundaries by reminding the children that they have a choice, and that it is their behaviour which determines what happens next. For example we could say “keep your paint on the paper, if you keep painting on the table, the paint will be put away’
This enables each child to have a sense that they have some authority over their own actions. But also allows you to have authority if those boundaries are being pushed.
When you have boundaries around the daytime routine it helps to give them a time warning. So if the children are doing something like watching the TV, and you need them to stop for tea, you can say ‘when this programme finishes, please turn the TV off and come in for tea’. This will prepare them for the end of TV time, so they are not surprised and angry when you call them for tea.
Don’t forget to praise them specifically when they do it, saying ‘thank you for turning off the TV and coming in’.
Sticking to your word
If you’re going to set a boundary, you need to be prepared to stick to that boundary and then thank them immediately if they obey (specific praise).
However, if they disobey you, you must carry through the consequences immediately; without negotiation. Your word must be your bond. In fact, this actually makes them feel safer.
Link the consequence to the boundary so it is clear that it is a result of their choice but that next time they can make a different choice.
And although it’s difficult – aim to impose the consequence calmly. If you are angry or frustrated by your child’s behaviour it’s okay to say “we’ll talk about this later when I am calmer”.
But as best you can, and in the moment, be calm.
And finally, ideally parents need to back each other up when it is time to impose agreed consequences, even if you are separated and have different boundaries and consequences in each house.
This means if you and your ex partner set different bedtimes we need to use the “In this House” strategy, which must be endorsed by both parents.
If the children complain that your ex allows them to stay up later than you do then remember the benefits of “co-parenting” over “toxic parenting” to the long term mental health of your children; and say something like this:
“Mummy and I have talked about this and she and I agree. In Mummy’s house you go to bed at 8pm. But in this house bedtime is at 7:30”.
In the next session, we’ll be looking at a related subject which is household rules.
Useful Consequences Download