Appropriate Boundaries When Raising Children?

Dangerosa made an interesting remark in the thread on “the friend who doesn’t use a carseat”. She mentioned that some parents’

So I’m wondering - what is the collective Doper opinion on “proper boundaries”?

Personally, I’m pretty lax about a lot of things – for instance, I don’t care if my toddlers take off their diapers while swimming in our (heavily wooded) backyard and pee on our trees (YOU try taking twins inside for every potty break). My Aunt thinks this is outrageous. When they were younger I’d let them bounce on the couch - heck, I encouraged it; we were living in a teeny tiny apartment & they needed the exercise! Right now they’re sleeping on mattresses on the floor w/no box springs b/c they love to bounce on them (who can blame 'em?) & also tend to roll out of bed. Same Aunt thinks this is tacky.

I’m strict about some things, too, like saying “please” and “thank you”, playing nicely and not grabbing toys away from each other (or me), and cleaning up their own messes.

And they know the rules are different at other people’s houses; for example, they weren’t ever allowed to bounce on Nanny’s couch, just our couch at home.

But of course, I do worry (a little) that I’m not training them to be fit for society. OTOH, I can’t worry about pleasing every single parent who crosses our path. At the Children’s Museum the other day, an older boy was playing “crash the lawnmowers” with my son & I thought it was great. His mom - not so much.

So I’m wondering - what lines do you draw, and where?

My opinion is that within a huuuuuuuuge range it doesn’t really matter. Most of the time, kids will turn out OK in spite of their parents.

It seems to me that many parents have this idea that some small thing they do or don’t do with their toddlers/young kids will dictate the child’s entire life course - and I just don’t buy it. For example, I heard a woman say that she’s sure the reason her sister doesn’t like to read as an adult was because she was taught (by her older sister) to read “too soon.” IMHO that’s total nonsense.
My lines are that kids can do nothing outright dangerous and nothing that is disrespectful or dishonest. That’s pretty much it.

“Children grow up in spite of us, never because of us” is practically the family motto. It’s good advice.

I read an article in a parenting magazine once, and the author’s philosophy of child-rearing was “say yes unless you have a good reason to say no”. That made a lot of sense to me, and I’ve used it a lot. My 6 year old bounces on the sofa. The sofa is old, very sturdy, and I’d rather see her active than just sitting there staring at the TV. She also climbs on the furniture. But she doesn’t climb on the furniture in anyone else’s house! My main rules for my kids are: don’t do anything outright dangerous, be nice, respect other people. Outside of that, they can do almost anything.

Now, my 15 year old gets a lot of freedom. But if she screws that up, I’ll pull the reins in.

My husband and I get into these sorts of arguments all the time. He’s got very stilted and formal ideas about how children and babies should behave. Things that I consider “company manners”, he considers “all the time” manners. (He was shocked when we met and my six year old didn’t wear pajamas to bed. Kid didn’t like pajamas, he thought they felt weird. He’d wear them at Grandma’s on sleepovers, but at home he slept in his jeans. Yeah, it’s unusual, but who was it hurting? Heck, I had less laundry that way!)

Anyhow, my rules tend to be set around making other people comfortable, or at least only minimally inconvenienced. So when we’re at a restaurant, you may color, or play with the sugar packets, or kick your own chair. You may not throw anything, run around or kick someone else’s chair. Crashing toy cars? Fine, as long as you’re not damaging someone else’s property. Running around screaming like a banshee in the park? If it’s a kid’s playground, fine. If it’s a walking trail, maybe, as long as you can do it without disturbing other walkers. If it’s a botanical garden walk, absolutely not.

I think matresses on the floor are fine, and definitely appropriate for toddlers who still roll out of bed. If you can keep them from jumping on other people’s couches, who am I to care if they jump on yours? (Mine, they can’t jump on, 'cause it’s a sofabed, and it could damage the hinges - falls into the “damaging someone’s else’s property” category.)

I see no problem with strong boundaries in public and laxer boundaries at home. Kids can tell the difference.

We found appropriate boudaries were most appropriately delineated with cattleprods, tethers, and other restraints, combined with not letting the little beasties out of the back yard (and removing the invisible fence shock collars) until high school. :wink:

More seriously, we allowed different behavior in different places in the house. For exxample, they might be able to bounce on the family room furniture, but not the living room. Or they could leave more toys out in their rooms or in the family rooms, than the general living space. They certainly were not allowed to damage something for no reason - tho if they wanted to take things apart or smash them, we would look for appropriate things on garbage day.

The kids were able to go pretty wild outside. But even in our yard we didn’t allow them to just shriek endlessly. Seeing as it would drive us crazy, we imagined it would do the same for our neighbors. And the toddlers might skinny dip in the backyard blow-up pool, but not at a public pool or beach.

We have some nice things in our house, and tho we certainly did a lot of childproofing, we did not let the kids dictate every aspect of our household for a decade or so. And we thought it important to teach the kids to respect property - ours, theirs, and other peoples’.

There is a big difference between making a mess, and damaging something. As far as making a mess is concerned - such as pulling the pans out from under the cabinets, or taking books off of shelves - our rule of thumb was if it kept them busy longer than it would take to clean up afterwards, it was okay.

In public, our thoughts were generally that they should not act in a way that imapirs anyone else’s reasonable enjoyment, or endangers anyone else or their property. I guess many folks might consider us overly strict, but our kids were the quiet/polite kids on the train or in restaurants. If we felt it would be too much effort to have the kids act as we wished, we would not take them. I can recal more than one instance when we left a store or mall because a kid was throwing a fit.

We tended to not go to childrens’ museums, as we felt those were often places where kids were allowed to misbehave - and we didn’t want the tension of having to decide whether to let our kids go along with that, or to teach them differently, etc. Plus, they are generally louder and more crowded than we like. I don’t know what exactly was involved, but “crash the lawnmowers” does not sound like something I would be thrilled with my kids doing, and I would probably tell them not to.

One thing we had essentially no tolerance for was “mean” behavior by our kids. And we taught them that they did not have to tolerate it from others.

The comment regarding “saying yes” is a good one. At one point I realized I was saying “no” a lot of the time, just because I considered it easier than deciding whether “yes” was appropriate.

Another thing I remember was it seemed I would often hear the kids arguing upstairs, while I was downstairs reading or something. For a while I would just yell, “What’s going on?”, “Cut that out!”, etc. Then one day it dawned on me that it was far better for me to haul my lazy ass off of the chair, put down my book, and walk upstairs to where the kids were, and check out the situation using a normal tone of voice.

Just a few disjointed thoughts.

Yeah, I’m that way about restaurants, too — absolutely no bugging other diners! I never let them do that “walk around and burn off some energy” thing when eating out, in large part b/c of having twins. So they don’t expect it.

My Hubby is so vastly different from me. We were out walking in the neighborhood last night & he didn’t want the kids to touch the wildflowers, pick up sticks, or bend over and look between their legs. The neighbor’s grey truck had to be referred to as a grey-truck-with-cap, not an ice cream truck (which is what our son thinks it looks like). He always insists on calling things exactly what they are, not what they might possibly be.

I don’t have children, but I do know one thing for sure.

Every child is different.

You can’t raise your child the way you were raised. You can’t raise your second child the way your first was raised. They are little individual people and need customization.

I mean, people customize their resumes for different jobs but kids? They expect all their kids to react the same way to stimuli. Nope. Not gonna happen.

The OP’s boundaries sound like mine- I’m OK with kids peeing against the tree in my own backyard. They see dogs do it, why not them? But only if the situation warrants it. Doing it while playing in their cousin’s backyard? Fine. Doing it at my boss’s house? Probably not.

Jumping on the bed? Fine. Jumping on my mother’s living room couch? Definitely a no-no. But they know that, even at 2 and 4.

We recently installed a swingset in our backyard, and one day we were out in the backyard and it started to rain. My 4-year old said she didn’t mind the rain, and wanted to keep playing. I thought about it for a minute and figured, why not? There was no lightning, it was a brief summer rain, it was still warm. No biggie.

I guess our boundaries are, unless it will injure them or someone else, or create a mess larger than I really feel like cleaning up, go for it. I think about the latitude I had as a kid- not because my parents were very liberal with me (they weren’t), but because things were different then, and I figure kids today tend to be overly coddled, so I try to let my kids explore things like minor pain, manageable mess, gravity, and clothinglessness, within reason.

The big thing we stress is politeness. Please, thank you, may I please get down from the table, etc. In restaurants, don’t speak too loudly, and you sit in your seat until it’s time to leave, but if they want to dig into their bowl of icecream and it ends up all over their hands and face, have fun. We bring the babywipes just for that reason (and tip the waitstaff accordingly).

I grew up with very few boundaries, but I was a sensible kid and usually didn’t have to have much supervision. Not every kid would thrive in such a persmissive atmosphere-- most wouldn’t, probably, but my parents were cogniscent of the fact that every child is different and tailored my upbringing to my specific needs.

What I have learned from them:

  1. Make sure you’re setting a good example. Kids resent hypocrisy. If you’re teaching them they must be polite, but having a screaming fit in public when something goes wrong, the lesson is lost. Likewise, if you teach them that stealing is wrong but are stealing cable or scamming your way into things, they’ll copy what they see.

  2. Admit when you’re wrong. If you’ve punished your kid and later discovered that they hadn’t done the deed, tell them you’re sorry. This shows them the importance of humility and owning up to your mistakes. They’ll respect you more for it in the end.

  3. Take their emotions seriously. Secretly, you may roll your eyes when your teenager avows that their heart is broken forever and they’ll always love the boy/girl that they were dating, but don’t shrug it off. Give them a shoulder to cry upon.

  4. Let them make their own mistakes and live with the consequences. I remember one time when I had a paper due, but decided to screw around and waste time instead of working on it. My mom reminded me a couple of times that I needed to get my work done, but when I didn’t do it, she didn’t go down to the school and bitch at the teacher until she removed the punishment. She just looked at me and asked what I was going to do to make up for those lost points.

  5. Be their mom, not their best friend. Too many parents worry their kids won’t “like them” if they punish them or are strict in enforcing the rules.

  6. Let them negotiate. If they’ve broken a rule, sit down and talk about why they did it, giving attention to their answers. Then, explain why the rule exists, and collaborate on an appropriate punishment.

  7. Be a parent first. Too many parents treat their kids like accessories to their lives, fitting them in around their other activities. Worse, they plainly show their kids they’d rather be doing other things than spending time with them.

  8. Listen to your kids. If they know they can babble on about what Sarah said to Jenny about what Michael said to Beth, they know they can come to you with anything. Communication is the most crucial part of parenting.

  9. Institute the “no questions asked” rule. If they are ever at a party and need a ride home (along with their friends) you will come and pick them up. Teaching your kids about avoiding substance abuse is important, but it’s more important to make sure your kid is not in a car with someone under the influence.*

  10. Tell them frequently that you’ll love them no matter what.

  11. Make sure they understand that life isn’t fair. Sometimes you don’t get a fair share, despite what they taught you in kindergarten. They’re going to have teachers who don’t like them, and others are not going to always respect their place in line.

  12. Teach them to dress/act appropriately for the situation, even if their friends aren’t. Yeah, wearing nice clothes isn’t always the most comfortable thing, and you may have the right to have pink and green hair but others aren’t going to respect you for it if you “do what you want to do.” They can act like a heathen in the park, but not at a funeral, etc.

  13. Teach them that just because someone did something bad to you, it doesn’t give you an excuse to do something bad as “revenge.”

  14. Encourage curiosity.

  15. Occasionally reward them for being good when nothing special has happened.

  16. Take them out for one-on-one time, and don’t use the occasion for a lecture or prying. Just have fun with them and let them talk when they want to.

  17. Use everything as a learning situation. If you see someone acting like an asshole, as your kid what they would do in that situation.

  18. Teach them about managing their money. (It’s not going to help matters much if you can’t do it yourself. They’ll learn that being worried about money and in debt is a natural condition if they don’t see you budgeting and living within your means.)

  19. Teach them to respect others’ views, even if they don’t agree with them.

  20. Lastly, have a sense of humor about life’s mishaps.

  • This also applies to sexual activity. One of my friends had a father who made it clear to her that he did not approve of premarital sex, but he showed her a drawer in which he kept several boxes of condoms and told her he refilled it ever few months without bothering to see if any were missing. She shared them with friends.

I guess my rules are that they can’t damage things, they have to be polite and respect other people, and they can’t do dangerous things.

I do let them jump on the couch (we bought a cheap one specifically for jumping and throwing up on–when they’re big we’ll get a nice one) and on my bed (they have a bunk bed). They can’t climb on things much, though, or kick the walls, or beat things up.

My husband tends to be a little more uptight about things, like he isn’t happy if they get all wet with their clothes on, and I don’t care. They’ll dry.

I’m very strict about TV, tantrums, screaming, consumerism, junk food, restaurants, and manners.

I guess I’m rambling here really, and I really need to get into the shower. But none of fessie*'s things sound bad to me.

Wow, lots of terrific comments, insights & suggestions!

I guess I may have stacked the deck by asking this question on the SDMB, but still I find it interesting that we seem to be on the same page for the most part.

I agree, in theory, with much of what has been posted.

It will be interesting to see, when our daughter gets older (she’s just 8.5 months right now), if I am able to stick with what I WANT to do, or if I end up reverting to how I was raised - by pretty uptight parents.

(For example, while in theory I have no problem with a child urinating against a tree in a private yard, in reality I can hear both my mom and dad saying “that’s disgusting - dogs pee outside, people pee in bathrooms!!!”).

So it remains to be seen how it will all gel for us.

fessie’s husband and the grey truck story really hit a nerve - that is EXACTLY what my dad would’ve done too.

I agree that you shouldn’t say no without reason. My dad used to do that to me all the freaking time (“No, you can’t stay up past nine and watch that cool movie, even though it’s summer and we have to return it tomorrow. Why? Because I said so.” “No, you can’t have your friend over, she was just over last week. And no, you can’t go to her place, even if it is the weekend and she lives just up the block. Why? Because I said so.”). It was just little stuff like that for which he had no reasons to say no (or if he did he would never deign to explain them), and it made me scared to ask to do anything. To this day I think he was a horrible parent, for that and many other reasons.

I would never tell my daughter, “No. Why? Because I said so.” It’s shitty and lazy.

I must disagree with this based on observations of other kids and my own. Children who do not learn to have table manners, for example, at home will not suddenly become little angels when they go to a restaurant or a friend’s house, and may have bigger problems when they get older and go out on their own without you to whisper reminders. Reaching for the wrong fork isn’t unforgivable but I hate sitting across from someone who chews with their mouth open.

Agree but only to a point. Children do deserve an explanation sometimes, and it should be part of their education to learn why they should or shouldn’t do certain things, but kids are very adept at reading this as an opportunity to engage in delaying tactics or arguments that never end. When they realize they can challenge a parent they will do so often, and will be able to read when the parent has a weak argument. A parent should have enough authority that not everything has to be explained.

Or sometimes you don’t really want to explain.

“Daddy, why can’t I watch that movie?”
“Because it’s got things that I don’t think a seven-year-old should watch.”
“Like what?”
“Like one guy cutting another guy’s head off and blood spurts out everywhere including onto his girlfriend’s naked breasts while she yells, ‘Oh f***!’” :eek:

“Daddy, why can’t I have two desserts?”
“Because I don’t want you to get fat as an ox like your aunt Gertrude.” :eek:

“Daddy, why can’t I have my friend over for dinner tonight?”
“Because she eats like a pig, doesn’t help clean up, she never invites you for dinner, and we just had her over last week and once a week is all I can stand without wanting to strangle her.” :eek:

My parents explained why they wanted me to behave a certain way. So I learnt table manners, good study habits, honesty and politeness.

When a bunch of us kids asked where babies came from, my parents were the only ones who told the truth.

My parents were cool about me giving up Church (I explained why I didn’t believe in God) and giving up on music lessons (they were both musicians, but I wanted to play chess).

They encouraged me to read and try things at least once.

Incidentally we never had much money (we never owned a car and only got a TV when I was 7). But they spent quality time with me.

Now I’m an uncle. Many years ago I took my two nephews to a posh London cinema. We arrived very early for an afternoon performance. There was nobody else in the huge cinema. They asked if they could run up and down the aisles. I said they could, but they had to be quiet and stop as soon as anyone else came in.
They ran up and down for a few minutes (giggling throughout), then instantly walked back to their seats when another patron entered.
That makes sense to me.

In this thread about cell phone use:


there is a marvelous post stating that rudeness does not require intent.
That was a tough lesson to get through to my kids. So many times they would do something objectionable, and when it was pointed out to them they’d say, “I didn’t mean to.” To which we would say, “I understand, but you DID.”

Of late, the places were we have had to set boundries (my kids are now almost seven and almost eight)

The jumping on the furniture stuff - fine when they were smaller, but they are getting too big and it just isn’t safe. One day, the arm will fall off the couch. And one day mom and dad will need to get a new couch and we won’t want that one jumped on.

Language - the problem is that it becomes habit to say “poop” and laugh. And its annoying to Mom and Dad. And Grandma stops inviting you over.

Sweets - if we let them, they would eat nothing but candy. So we are setting boundries around how much they can have. And they have to ask. They can have candy or pop - not both.

Respectful behavior - we expect our kids to be respectful to others - its taking a long time to learn. This includes inside voices in the car (or Mommy gets a headache and is down for the count). And it includes controlling your emotions - something my daughter always has had a problem with.

The issue with other people’s kids is that sometimes they either don’t care or that they do care but their kids have the same boundry issues yours do. So now you have two kids telling each other butt jokes, and encouraging behavior we are trying to stop. Or worse, teaching the kids that it is OK to say “fuck” - my kids know all sorts of dirty words, they also firmly believe they are not to be said and they’ll get in “big trouble” if they say them. This is good, because “fuck you” is not charming coming out of a seven year old. Different households have different rules, and its really hard when you are seven to understand why your seven year old friend gets to watch splatter movies and you don’t (because my son gets nightmares and is too afraid to go into the basement by himself as it is).

Not really-my mother would probably have said things like:
“Because the movie has a lot of scary things like people hurting each other and I think it’s not appropriate for you to watch.”

“Because you already had one, and too much sugar isn’t good for you (insert various reasons depending on age appropriateness). Besides, you need to save some for other people-don’t be greedy.”

“Because, quite honestly, your friend is very rude when she comes over here, she doesn’t invite you over as well, and you just had her over recently. Why don’t you invite so and so?”

Thanks for the laugh!!! I love those!

REally though, I’m pretty strict with my girls. They’re 7 and 10 and good kids really, but all kids will push til they meet the boundary, then most will push a little further just to see if the boundary is really a real one.

My sister thinks I expect far too much from my kids–or she did until my husband deployed to Iraq. It made life so much easier to know that they knew how to behave (most of the time, come on they’re kids after all) and made all of our lives easier. It helps that I’m the main “tough guy” in our house. DH is the soft touch…but then guys are generally like that with their daughters :D.

I expect decent manners at the table, and especially when eating out.
Inside voices (not always successful with my youngest, she has my voice patterns :o ).
Respect for each other and for other people.
Please and thank you are a necessity.
Negotiating is not acceptable. I find myself increasing the strictness the more my kids negotiate their “reasons for misbehavior” to me. They are the child, I’m the parent. If I say something, they are allowed to initially question why, but NO negotiating. Unacceptable. My youngest is truly a future trial attorney or diplomat…she tries my patience to no end with her negotiation. “Can I have a piece of candy?”. No. “why?”. Because you just had breakfast. “Can I have one in an hour?”. No. “Why?” Because you don’t need one. “Can I have one after lunch?”. Maybe. “Maybe always means no with you mom”. Not always, just mostly. “why can’t I have any candy?”. Because it’s not good for you. “What about it isn’t good for me?”. EEEEEEEEKKKKK!. Running screaming.

While DH was gone I did relax on some things…mostly bed time. I do require that they be in their beds by 8 or 9 (depending on if it’s school or not), but they have some leeway for quiet time, reading, playing with dolls etc. If it gets too noisy or too late, lights out.

Anyway, my grandmother had a saying–follow your gut. If it feels RIGHT, give it a try. (note not “if it feels GOOD”. Big difference.).

The other good piece of advice I’ve gotten over the years is “Is this a hill worth dying on?”. That one always makes me think.