Boundaries – When to Say “No” and When to Say “Yes”

“No, no, no, no, no.” As much as parents hate to say it, children hate to hear it. It may be the necessary response depending on the question or the situation, but a constant barrage of the answer “no” can be debilitating for parent and child alike. Plus, it can lead to more than a little friction within the relationship. Obviously, children need to hear “no” to some things. But they also need to be told “yes” to other things. By establishing clear and firm boundaries, parents can create a framework to help determine what is permissible and what is not. Plus, children can learn to identify what those boundaries are and can experience less frustration as a result.

While boundaries set an outer limit of what is permissible, there can be considerable freedom within those boundaries. Certain situations may still demand a “no” answer, but “yes” should become a much more common response. The specifics of setting boundaries will vary from parent to parent and from child to child. The maturity of the child and the value system of the family will influence what the boundaries are.

There are some guiding principles, though, that can help parents determine where the boundaries should be. For instance, when is it appropriate to answer “no”? When “yes” might cause serious harm to the child or to others, when there are more pressing needs, when the resources are not available, or when the timing is not right. In these instances, a “no” answer can contribute toward your child’s personal growth and understanding of the world. When safety issues prompt a “no” response, it can help your child learn to distinguish between what is safe and what is unsafe. Ultimately, the goal of a “no” response should be to enable your child to make wise choices in the future. Within those boundaries, though, a “yes” response may be warranted.

Children need to be given the freedom to enjoy life and to experience new things. They even need to be permitted to make mistakes so that they can learn from them. For well-meaning parents, allowing their children to make mistakes can be difficult. Instinctively, parents want to protect their sons or daughters from experiencing disappointment or making costly mistakes. That’s why boundaries are important. The boundaries you set for your child provide guidance to help protect him or her from serious consequences, but you cannot eliminate the potential for all consequences. Nor should the boundaries prevent new discoveries and self-expression.

When a child is young, the boundaries established by parents should be fairly small. The potential for danger and the need for personal growth are too important to allow a young child to run amok. As the child grows and exhibits a level of responsibility, though, those boundaries should begin to expand. Your child should have the opportunity to earn more freedom as he or she demonstrates the ability to make responsible choices. Communicate clearly with your child so that the boundaries are understood. Express that the boundaries are intended to protect and to nurture growth. They are established out of love and concern; they are not simply arbitrary decisions intended to limit fun.

As your child matures, reassess the boundaries from time to time to determine if some adjustments can be made. So say “no” whenever necessary. But at the same time, try saying “yes” a little more often. By maintaining firm boundaries while allowing freedom within those boundaries, you will experience less stress and less conflict with your child, while your child will be given the best opportunity to mature and develop into a responsible adult.

About Greg Hanson

Greg Hanson is a freelance writer and public speaker specializing in matters of practical faith. Greg has spoken to audiences in the U.S. and in Canada, and his writings have been used by speakers and leaders around the world. As the pastor of a local church, Greg helps people deal with a variety of relational, financial, and spiritual problems. As a sports enthusiast (hockey in particular) he is informed about what happens on the ice/field and in the front office. And as a parent of two young children… well, he’s still learning. Greg resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada, with his wife Shera and their children, Nate and Noah.

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