4 tips on setting boundaries with your children

Motherhood doesn't have to drive you completely crazy. Learning how to set healthy boundaries is an important part of that.

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  • One important way to learn to enjoy motherhood is setting boundaries with your children. Without establishing guidelines for when your children have your full attention, it's easy for motherhood to feel exhausting, irritating and incredibly limiting. With them, your children have structure and you have your sanity. But what do these healthy boundaries look like? Read on to find out.

  • Say "no."

  • This is the first and foundational step to setting boundaries. You're the parent, not the best friend. Your goal is not to make sure your children like you, but to make sure they grow up to become people that you will respect. Also, motherhood is your most important role, but it's certainly not your only one. Sometimes, you have to say "no" to your children so that you can get something else done. This doesn't make you a bad mother; it makes you a responsible adult. Saying "no" to your children when you need it most makes it easier to say "yes" to them when they need it most.

  • Give clear instructions

  • When you give your child an instruction like "don't play in the street," it leaves your child with an open-ended scenario. That can be too much to deal with and lead them to revert to the undesired behavior. Instead, tell them not just what they shouldn't do, but also what they should do. Try something like "keep your hand on the door handle while Mommy gets out the stroller." Giving your child a specific goal helps him or her to feel accomplished while helping you to communicate your needs and expectations clearly.

  • Give them a choice

  • Your children may be more obedient if you empower them with a choice. "Mommy is going to exercise. You can either stay here and exercise with her, or you can go play outside" could be magic words for your child. It's also nice because it allows them to have interaction if they would like it, but sets it within a framework that doesn't corral you into catering to their whims.

  • Let them cry

  • This is an exceptionally difficult challenge for me in my childcare experience. As a book I just read to a two-year-old says, "Babies cry because they are trying to tell us something." However, a cry may say "I want something," not "I need something." It is essential to know your children well in order to distinguish the two, but you are probably doing your child a disservice by always giving him what he wants when he wants it. After all, is life really like that? And aren't we supposed to prepare our children for real life? We can't always have what we want, especially when it makes life unnecessarily stressful and difficult for others. Like hardworking moms, for instance.

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  • Setting boundaries with your children is important not just because it helps to maintain your sanity. Your example of setting healthy boundaries will be the most effective way, if not the only way, that your children will learn to do it, as well. By saying "no" to your children, you teach them that having limits is OK. And, that is a lesson they can take into adulthood. Your children may not like it now, but they will definitely thank you later.

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Sara Hagmann is a stay-at-home wife and writer who loves traveling, cooking, and kissing her husband. A lot.

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