Preparing for the Six/Seven Year Change: The Importance of Boundaries

One of the most pressing issues for the child of the traditional preschool age (ages 3 and onward) is learning to deal with boundaries.  I find many attached parents, especially first-time attachment parents, are rather slow about using boundaries.  It seems as if they equate boundaries with not being a good attached parent.  Attachment parenting does not mean letting the child do whatever they want at the expense of the needs of everyone else in the family.  That is not what attachment parenting is, and it sets your child and you up for difficulties that are much harder to un-do as your child grows older and the things you are dealing with become much bigger.

Children naturally are experimenting with boundaries during the years of  three to six  and beyond!  A child of three or three and a half really has their own will starting to emerge and is looking to see what the rules of the family are.  It is also an important time for the child to see what the social rules are beyond the immediate family.  A small child needs you to model manners and to help them.  We are certainly kind and respectful at home, but there are also certain ways we act outside of our home depending upon what we are doing and where we are.  What are the rules of conduct at the park versus the rules of being at a place of worship?  These are the things that small children are learning.

A sense of right and wrong can not be especially elicited before the six/seven year old change, but that certainly does not mean you just let things go and slide away.  You take your four year old by the hand and say “thank you” to the neighbor who has brought him a gift, even  if he is too shy to say it for himself.  You take your child who is being disruptive in a quiet place and step outside.  You physically help your three and a half or four year old draw a picture for the smaller sibling whom they were not gentle with. 

If you can start by putting these boundaries in place when children are small, then when your child moves into the ages of seven  and nine, they will come to see you as the loving authority that you are.  They will see that what you say means something and your voice will be a guide of wisdom.  I am sure as teenagers you all will remember certain things your parents would say, and  even  if you didn’t follow your parent’s advice about something, you probably could hear their voice in your head!  The parent’s loving authority is often like a conscience for the child as they work to  develop their own morality and their own right action.

But the groundwork for this is laid in the Early Years.  I cringe when I see three and a half, four, five and six year olds just doing whatever it is what they want to do with no regard for the feelings of others because the parent is not guiding the behavior at all.   Yes, children have temper tantrums, children melt down, children have difficulty playing together, things happen.    That is life with small children!  However, it is the job of the parent to help guide that child toward the boundaries that exist, to structure opportunities for success,  and yes, to step in a gentle physical way to help guide the child.  There is no “voice only” parenting from the sidelines with the small child. They need your physical presence. 

What you are doing today with your small child is very important for the future of your child and for the future of society.  What you do today matters!  The Early Years count!

Many blessings,


19 thoughts on “Preparing for the Six/Seven Year Change: The Importance of Boundaries

  1. Thank you for this post!!
    I have a 5 yo who constantly test every single boundary possible. He pushes against them just to see what will happen. And I feel like at those times, I just don’t know how to handle things properly. Sometimes, it is just a random thing, and I cringe at the thought of it becoming a power struggle. Whatever thing I dissagreed with, he will do again, looking at me to see what I wll do. (for exemple, if I say: the lights are not for playing… he will look at me, and play with them again just to see what I will do)
    How to deal with that?
    thank you again so much!

    • Neptune,
      All I can encourage you to do it to hold the line, to think before you say something, because if you say it you should then physically follow through. “Oh dear, your hands forgot what they were doing and were playing with the lights A-gain! Come, let’s chop potatoes for dinner” and take him by the hand and lead him out of the area!
      Or sing a song and gently take him away and go outside or whatever is next in your rhythm. Of course if this is happening because it is nighttime and he is exhausted, all bets are off, LOL. 🙂
      many blessings,

  2. This…is one of my pet peeves. I sometimes think that it is not so much AP parents mistaking permissiveness for respectful discipline as it is permissive parents using AP as a justification. I’ve had several friends who comment on how “strict” I am and yet people who do not live near me think I must be permissive when I describe my parenting philosophy to them. Being respectful of a child’s needs and developmental stages does not mean that there is no structure, no discipline, and no boundaries!

  3. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to this post and to your comment, Candace! Attachment parenting should not equal permissive parenting! I especially think guiding children through the act of making amends is so important, and so much more valuable than the forced apologies I witness at playgrounds regularly. And they physical follow through…Carrie, I’m laughing because you make that sound so smooth and easy! It is not always. But is necessary. I’m always amazed when people (or when I catch myself doing this!) expect their 3 year old to switch gears with words/verbal direction only…I think the real challenge is in staying calm and centered and present while physically guiding a reluctant child to a different use of their body or words…

  4. so trying to do what is right with my 3 year old! Examples would be a great way to start. Somehow when I wind up in the situation, words just totally fail me! When older brother reaches out and slaps younger brother HARD in the face or onthe head, or hums a block (and this guy has aim I would have died for as a kid!) at his head not once but twice in succession and hits where my hand is not covering it! My mind just goes blank for words! I think I need a piece of paper on the wall that reminds me hand over hand or something to that effect – are there any quotes out there that would cover this? I’m just stumped.

    • Hi Michele,
      I don’t really know of any quotes off hand, but let’s make one up.
      “Body first, head last.”
      Move your body, their body first, redirect the body or the hands, words last.
      Does that help??

  5. Yes, the early years matter so much! I remember the shift from baby (when needs and wants are the same) to toddler (when I had to start providing boundaries as well as nurturance) was so challenging for me the first time around. It took me at least a year to have confidence in myself as the authority. But I have found that becoming comfortable and confident in my role as boundary provider has lessened my child’s anxiety and our dynamic is much improved. Of course we want our children to feel unconditionally loved, but it is also our job to teach boundaries, respect, and social skills.
    I especially appreciate all that you have written about physically guiding the small child. When we’re out and about I often see parents trying to guide their small child with words only and I know they’re going to have a tough time!

  6. I’ve noticed since we have shifted as a culture away from violence as a method of controlling behavior parents seem at a loss for how to enforce boundaries.

    I was at a hall once and young children were climbing dangerously on stacked chairs. It looked like good fun, but was totally inappropriate and dangerous. I told my children they could not join in and the parents looked at me like I was a monster. It never occurred to them to simply say no. When my children really wanted to join in, I simply said,” It looks like you really want to climb, lets go climb some rocks at the beach.”.

    Thanks for encouraging gentle, clear boundaries.

  7. Good post. Just to answer the above comment. It doesn’t sound like that situation had to do with boundaries. It sounds like it was more about those parents not having a problem with the chair climbing, and you did. To someone, it may look like a child is not being disciplined (for lack of a better word), but in reality, the parent just has different rules/boundaries/expectations.

  8. Carrie, I love reading this. With a 16 and 18 yr old, and a 2 and 4 yr old, I have both ends of the spectrum. It used to make me laugh when my boys (the teenagers) were little. My friends would say ‘you are so hard on your kids’. Then when they were 9, those same friends said ‘you are so lucky to have well mannered, well behaved, great kids’. Umm no people, the ‘too hard’ you criticised when they were 4?? These are the rewards I am reaping. And now with almost men on my hands, and 2 small girls entering into those same challenging years, I have a constant reminder that the boundaries we set at a young age pay off right up until adult hood.

    Thanks for writing this, I needed this today with my 4 yr old constantly answering me back, and me constantly having to discipline her accordingly.

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