Boundaries in Parenting: How to Raise A Non-Criminal Child

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, I was asked how we could apply the same boundaries (discussed in Grow Your Marriage by Leaps & Boundaries) with other relationships.

Does anyone ever ask you, “How is your non-criminal child today?” Of course not! But as parents, sometimes we have fears about our children making serious mistakes in life. Most of those fears are blown way out of proportion, but sometimes we wonder. . .
So here are my Top 5 Tips for Parents when creating boundaries for children.

1. Develop trust. It’s really true, that children never care what you know until they know that you care about them. Trust is earned. Can your child believe you? Trust that you won’t share things about him with others? Does your child enjoy being around you?

2. Be the adult. Anger or selfish children bring out the worst in their parents. “SIT DOWN OR ELSE YOU’RE GOING TO GET IT.” Don’t “lose it,” and if you do, apologize for your behavior. Show your child that there are standards for how you will behave. If you expect something, listen to any reasonable concerns, but if it gets into an unnecessary argument, explain that those are your expectations, and be clear if there are consequences for not meeting those expectations—and what the benefit will be if they do meet those expectations. Then walk away.
3. Use your mind when your heart gets hurt. Children can hurt their parents so badly because they parents care so much for their children. This doesn’t mean to not care, of course, but when a child is “out to get you back” for whatever reason, it’s time to tell yourself to switch to cool, collected thinking. Some parenting experts advocate telling your child how they hurt you, but I think parents should just explain the consequences. “If you go here/there, this will happen.”
4. Lead by example. Children learn where the limits are by what their parents do (or don’t do). If you have a rule about watching TV, going on the Internet, or reading, lead by example. Whether it’s work-related or because of something else, when children see you living by a certain standard, chances are good they’ll be more likely to follow that example—for better or worse!
5. Take time outs. Give yourself a break. Assuming that you always have to discipline, teach, or train your child wears a person out. The less stressed you are, the easier it will be to create and maintain boundaries in a way where you and your child are always on the same side.

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