Diane Pickert is a Community Prevention Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Kansas City, MO. Her background education is in Early Childhood Development, Communication, and Religious Education. She’s finishing her Masters at the moment from Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England. Diane’s focus has always been on the connection between faith, family and raising healthy children.
My 3 year-old grandson Ambrose drew a mural with markers, not once, but twice on walls in their family home. First, all over the dining room wall and a year later, all over the upstairs hallway. Needless to say, my daughter and her husband have had to set some boundaries with markers.
It is normal in development for children in their early years to push their limits, which is why it is important to start setting boundaries young. By setting these boundaries and establishing consequences, it helps children develop self-control, supports development, and fosters a moral compass.
Here are some reasons kids and teens need boundaries:
- Boundaries teach self-discipline
- Boundaries keep our children safe and healthy
- Boundaries teach children how to socialize
- Boundaries teach children how to cope with uncomfortable feelings
- Boundaries encourage good behavior and good citizenship as they grow older
- Boundaries are reassuring and actually show children you care about them
In adolescence, kids start testing limits with relationships and their bodies. The emotional center of the adolescent brain is hyper-sensitive to risk and reward and it often overrides the underdeveloped front of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) where complex thought and decision making happens. Adolescents are more likely to try things like drinking alcohol, vaping, or driving at dangerous speeds, leaving parents reminiscing of the days of coloring on the walls!
Setting boundaries helps the adolescent brain create pathways as your child grows up. It shows kids you care about their health and development and makes them feel safe. Setting firm boundaries and having regular conversations with your children will help them become responsible for their own actions, attitudes and emotions. Maintaining these boundaries will instill character in your children which will encourage them to lead a balanced, and resilient life well into their adult years. And if your child is anything like my grandson, they will probably “color on the walls” more than once. That’s ok and it doesn’t mean that your boundaries aren’t worth it. Boundaries need to be defined more than once for adolescents.
I’m sure as Ambrose continues to grow older he will need more boundaries set for different reasons. His parents will have many conversations with him, not because they want to stifle his curiosity or creativity, but because they simply love him and want him to be safe. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your kids and teens. It enhances their ability to cope with life’s disappointments (without drugs like nicotine and marijuana) and helps them gain a sense of control. Make sure you have regular conversations with your children and, most importantly, love them even in the midst of their mistakes.