The Rant Of The Day! Parenting With Boundaries!!

(I think this post has a very uniquely American message, so I apologize if it does not resonate with my international readers as much today.)

Connection between the parent and the child  is a huge help regarding discipline and boundaries because that connection IS the basis of all guiding.  Connection helps us really know our children and helps us get what makes them “them”; what really motivates them.  That is a big help in discipline and guiding and shaping behavior!  It also helps that when we are connected to our children that our children really know us intimately too!  These children have an incredible feeling of being a vital  part of the family, which actually can be a powerful tool:  to be a part of a culture and to have intimately seen and known the rules within that  family culture are vital and important.

However, here is my beef!  If you are a parent and you have structured everything so there is no conflict, your child never hears “no” (and yes, just plain “no”, not a couched “no” with twenty words surrounding the “no”), if you never try to balance your child’s “likes” and “dislikes”  or uplift your child to the next level, are always swooping in to rescue your child, well….. I just think you are wrong.  Plain, dead, worrisome wrong.

Because I worry about children who never hear “no”.

I worry about children whose lives are so perfectly orchestrated that there are never any tears of frustration.  I worry about their future flexibility and resiliency.

I worry about children who count on their parents to buffer them from other adults and other children.

I worry about children who have no boundaries in their own homes – bedtimes, nap times, mealtimes, whose things belong to the parent and can’t be taken and played with, how we treat one another.

I worry about  children who never have to follow through on the consequences of doing something wrong, especially for  those children aged nine and up.  And yes, my friends, sometimes children do things that are just plain wrong. They are learning, just like us.

I worry about children who cannot seem to accept authority from other adults.

I think in America it seems as if the pendulum has tottered from the inherent natural boundaries of the farm, hard work, the rugged individual to lives of relative ease where parents work so hard to provide everything for their children their children have nothing real to cut their teeth on, including boundaries.

Sometimes I do think the larger issue is not that parents don’t necessarily think boundaries are important, but they worry they are being too “authoritarian” and they don’t know HOW to set boundaries.  It seems to me the way we try to set boundaries in our society is to talk our children to death, to treat them as miniature adults with less experience (so therefore if we talk to them more they will “get it”).   Yet, we know there are clear developmental stages for a child, and clear points of neurologic maturation.  We can see this from biologic studies of the brain, we can see this from the work of Rudolf Steiner, we can see this from the Gesell Institute and we can see this from Piaget.

So, the question becomes:  how do we set boundaries in a calm way without treating our children like miniature adults?

Here are a few of my suggestions; take what resonates with you! 

1.  FOR THOSE WHO HAVE CHILDREN OF ALL AGES:  You are the authority in your home; accept the fact that being a parent means that you should be and are the LOVING authority.  Step up and be the parent!  Recognize the importance of boundaries!

2.  FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES:  Get your own “stuff” together so you can be a model for your children.  Come to grips with your own feelings about authority, about boundaries and get really clear about it.  Is anything okay so long as it doesn’t hurt someone else?  What are your ethical and moral lines?  It is hard to pass these values onto your children if you don’t know this about yourself!

3.  FOR THOSE WITH CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF FOURTEEN:  Part of being that loving authority means you set the tone, you set the rhythm of the day, you decide the activities for a small child.  Yes, of course as your child hits past the nine year change and into the teen years there is more room for partnership – but children ages 9-14 still need a really firm and steady hand!

4.  FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH TINY CHILDREN ESPECIALLY:    You don’t have to talk, talk, talk every decision and every thing to death out loud in front of the oh- so- tiny child so he or she can listen to your back- and- forth thought process. Stop talking!  Your out-loud thought process actually, in my observation of many families, does not teach a future ten or twelve year old  the decision making process – it teaches them to talk others to death and to feel they can and should comment on every little thing within the life of the family!  (And yes, I know this is completely counter to everything one reads in those popular American parenting magazines and books.  If you would like an alternative to those ideas, try

5.  FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH TINY CHILDREN ESPECIALLY:  To continue on the above train of thought…..  To that end, I have to say I am not a fan of talking endlessly to children during everyday tasks.  I guess that might just be me, but I really cringe when I hear parents talking their tiny child up and down whilst changing a diaper or bathing. I can understand this a bit more in a daycare kind of setting, but at home I truly value silence.  Singing, a warm smile and humming is also especially nice!  Look into your child’s eyes and love them.  Enjoy your children as children, not some sort of project you must develop and get right!

You can see this post if you would like to challenge yourself to stop talking so much to tiny children, who really don’t need the burden: .

6.  FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES, with a special note for those aged nine and above:  Keep a strong rhythm, lots of work, and plenty of outside time.  Sports and other activities can play a place in the life of those nine and up. Last week, I watched two nine and ten year olds in our homeschool group race the heck out of each other at the pool.  Nine and ten year olds want to have something to do, they are interested in the world, and many of them do like to compete. It doesn’t mean that you have to go crazy and be gone hours each day from your home, that is not balance, but the nine and ten year olds (and up!) do have energy – so get them outside, introduce them to the world in the ways you deem best!

7. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN AGES 7-14: Authority is most important at this age. Surround your child with people who are kind, loving, warm and friendly, but who also set boundaries for children. This includes teachers, coaches, people at your place of worship. If setting boundaries is hard for you, you not only have to work at it, but also be careful you are not gravitating toward getting your child involved with other trusted adults who don’t know how to set boundaries. Boundaries need to come from the world too.

8. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES, BUT ESPECIALLY THE NINE YEAR CHANGE AND UP:  Set the stage by providing boundaries and clear ways of restitution from the time your children are preschool-aged.  A four year old can learn to trade a toy to a smaller sibling without snatching what they want out of the toddler’s hand.  A six- year- old can draw a picture for a little brother or sister whose toy was broken or for being completely rude to mamma.  My cardinal rule for those six and up is that we don’t take rude and ugly out into the world for play dates or activities.   We keep rude and ugly acting at home until we feel better.   Being kind to family members is the most important part of life and the first grounds for learning how to communicate with others.  It is important to follow through every time with children, so get your perseverance on!

9.  FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH TEENAGERS:  I don’t have teenagers yet, so I am hesitant to say too much, but I have a lot of friends with teenagers.  All of them have referred to the teenaged years as “second toddlerhood” in so many ways, especially for those who are involved with dating.  In a time that one traditionally thinks would be a more independent period, it seems as if it can involve lots of driving, following up on things for teens in school, and being vigilant with the friends and the dating scene.  Mothers of teens, comment below!  I would love to hear how you handle boundaries with your teens!

10.  FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES:  Keep connecting, keep space and time open to listen and love your children.  Hug them daily, love them.

Many blessings and much love to all,


21 thoughts on “The Rant Of The Day! Parenting With Boundaries!!

  1. This is a great post Carrie! I struggle with parenting at times and I have a GREAT connection and strong authority so I can’t imagine how it would be otherwise. There are times when we just need obedience, not questions. It doesn’t make us mean parents because we have children that obey, lol.

    Oh and those teen years… I read something from Betty Staley a few weeks back that totally rings true. She said teens (especially the 15yo) should be treated as if they are wearing a sign that says “Caution: Under Reconstruction” LOL… totally true.

    This is an awesome journey and we have to keep our whits about us and our tempers in check. We don’t have to be perfect, just striving.

  2. I’m a mother of 2 teen girls. One thing I can say is that I can’t blog about parenting anymore! I think the stakes rise so high with teens. Some pieces of parenting still hold true–
    they still imitate–my young driver imitates me constantly and we watch how much we are using media as they imitate us on this.
    they still need rhythm and routine–the daily family dinners and evening rhythms are just as important.

    I struggle with the boundaries and when to let them figure things out vs when to let them fall and get up. The falling and getting up has higher stakes though–a bad driving decision can equal ….um…death. My life passed before my eyes just yesterday as she drove a bit too close to the center of the road. a bad test-taking/studying/homework decision can destroy a GPA just when college is looming. It’s stressful to find the balance.

    They are stressed. Our high school is very stressful. Home is where they can let down. Creating a respectful and restful home means setting some boundaries but also letting them relax and forget about it all sometimes so they can hold themselves together out in the world.

  3. I really love this post Carrie! How many of us feel uneasy about being in this position of authority – trying to accommodate and validate and explain every inch of the way?!?! It’s okay to be in charge! It’s okay to say no! It’s okay for our children to be sad, bored, disappointed!

    We must be careful we are not bending over backwards so far we end up with our heads in the wrong place :-p

  4. I love this post…. it could be wriitten to/about me. Boundaries are really difficult for me, as I had a very critical and emotionally abusive dad, and I see it play out in my parenting every day. I tend to be overly permissive… until I just lose it, which is no good. I’m learning how to set the boundary AND be ho-hum about it and not get so worked up.

    I have always followed an “attachment” belief structure, but am learning that many of the strategies so many folks (including me!) use just really aren’t appropriate, such as the talking to death of young kids. We’ve esp found this to be tempting with our super-verbal first born. Also, you are TOTALLY right about saying no and building that frustration tolerance. We are having to do some major shifts in our thought-process wtih my first born, who freaks out about everything, tantrums, and has no frustration tolerance at all…. which we created!!!

    This blog has been so helpful in showing me that boundaries, saying no, following through quietly without a never-ending dialogue/argument, are all things that help create a healthy and attached child who feels safe, not the opposite. Now I can’t imagine why I thought it was so terrible to say no when the time is right!

  5. Love this, love you. We live in a world where boundaries are increasingly blurred. No one has to wait for anything anymore. Small children have cell phones and Facebook accounts, and when we treat little ones like adults we shouldn’t be surprised when teenagers think they’re already grown up and should be able to do all the things grown-ups do. Part of protecting childhood is, I think, placing the boundaries that help children stay children.

  6. As a mother of 4- ages 23,15,8 and 5, I can say the teen years are the hardest. It is very difficult to figure out when to ease up and let them take more responsibliity. I like to say there are essentials and non-essentials. The essentials are areas I can not bend on and so I am more apt to step in concerning these. Other behaviors are non-essentials and while I might really want to persuade my son not to do these things – like not getting in a hurry to get into bed (which if he was more efficient with getting ready for bed, he would be more rested), I choose to let him “figure it out”. I can’t give the same reaction/attention to getting in bed 30 min. earlier as I do for talking to him about consuming alcohol, or it will negate the importance of the latter.

    Teens need boundaries and freedom. One line I always use when it seems like my teens are wanting more freedom is “Responsibility brings freedom”. This is very clear, so if they do mess up, they understand up front that the freedom meter has just lowered some. I do often remind them that a mistake is an opportunity to improve oneself.

  7. Carrie, thank you so much for reminding me of the need for these boundaries! I have been questioning myself at times because it does seem very trendy right now to “trust your child” so much that the child actually takes over everything! I know deep down this is not right, but it does get confusing at times. Asking myself the questions you mentioned was very helpful.

  8. I think I need to print this out, frame it, and put it on the first wall I see in the morning! I always thought that attachment parenting meant preventing all frustration, never directly saying no, and having poor boundaries in general. Yikes! Now i now the problems that all those things cause, although thankfully my little girl is only 5 and not a teen!

    The funny thing is, I think all of those things have led to attachment and connection issues, not the other way around, due to me being really frustrated and irritated with some things going on that I should have headed off. I’m so glad to find Waldorf, and a few online and real life mentors to help with all of these things.

    Thank you , thank you for all your hard work. You really should compile your work into a book…

    Oh, and it’s funny b/c I was just listening to a recording from Melisa Nielsson and am getting ready to start her program. She was just saying something really similar that was resonating, and then I read this post and she’s one of the comments… ha!! Small world 🙂

    • K – So, so many of us end up in Waldorf land from exactly the challlenge you described…the ways to gently parent children according to much of the secondary attachment parenting literature don’t seem comfortable. That is how I found Waldorf parenting! Interestingly, AP is/was about meeting the child’s needs — and if we understand childhood development, then we could see children do need boundaries, that tiny children don’t need to be reasoned with and talked to death to feel secure….So to me, setting boundaries is The Real Deal in terms of making a child feel safe, secure and attached in a developmentally appropriate way.

      Food for thought, so glad you are here. Thank you for sharing your story. You will hear similar vibes regarding boundaries throughout the Waldorf community.

  9. I think we’re quite good a “big picture boundaries” but it’s the day to day ones that are such a challenge to maintain especially in a larger family. I have three older children and a super busy toddler and I’ve found that it’s been very challenging to maintain our boundaries the more children I have….I also have children who will test every boundary, everyday.probably because I have trouble being consistent. I’m totally on board for the whys and whats of boundaries it’s the HOW that’s so hard right now. For example my three year old throws huge tantrums whenever she doesn’t get something she wants…they can go on for half an hour. So while I try to keep her from throwing things or hitting me while keeping the toddler safe the older two often run off to do something they are not suppose to (get into the fridge or art supplies, turn on the tv or go outside). It seems its so hard to keep boundaries for all 4 children at the same time and life is becoming so overwhelming. Any thoughts on what to do? My mom thinks I should use a time out stool but I don’t believe in it and they won’t stay on it when she tries when she babysits anyway. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Sarah,
      How old are your older two children? Toddler, age 3, and two older ones aged what? I think one thing is to really “babyproof” things as much as possible so the things you don’t want your children into are not available. I think my other suggestion would be to move everyone outside if you live in a climate where the weather permits this – loud voices belong outside, and being outside on the grass ensures no injuries can happen. 🙂 Next I would check sleep, diet – the usual suspects. A strong rhythm with plenty of outside time can really assist you, so I would look at that piece of well. There are many posts on this blog about gentle discipline and family life, and I would go back and read some of those as well for further inspiration. It is really hard when everyone is going in multiple directions. Perhaps the older ones, depending on how old they are, need a job to do during the tantrum. If the tantrum is close to lunch, could they set the table, for example. Life still goes on, life is safe for little ones who are tantruming because the whole world doesn’t stop at their whim. That gives a true sense of security. I wonder if this post would be helpful to you at all:

      Just some thoughts off the top of my head; please do take what resonates with you. You are the expert on your family.

  10. Pingback: Getting My Stuff Together as a Parent. -

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  12. This is a great post. I am Australian, but I live in Japan. As a non-US English speaker, one thing I notice that is very different about Nth American parents, is the amount of talking they do to even very small children. I then notice that school-aged Nth American children often have a precocious use of the language that belies their age and experience. I feel uncomfortable when I see writing from young children that uses phrases such as “Are you serious? You really think blah blah blah….” , “You’ve got to be joking, right?” etc. It seems like language without meaning, just attitude that has been copied from older siblings or TV. These children seem to lack the innocence and imagination that define childhood; it’s as though they have been talked out of being a child. Dr Spock wrote about the importance of just ‘being there’ for the child and how too much talking only makes a child tense and nervous. He also wrote about being ‘matter-of-fact’ and taking full responsibility for decisions about meal-times, bed-times etc.

    In Australia in recent years, I have noticed a somewhat worrying trend where first-time mothers confuse political correctness with parenthood. I know mothers that won’t structure the child’s day with set nap-times etc. because they think it somehow infringes on the child’s rights! I know one mother who wound up in a sleep clinic when the child was ALREADY TWO because she had never made even a simple timetable or ‘rhythm’ for the child. (I also feel that there was some level of reluctance to reduce the number of coffee mornings and restaurant meals etc. with the small child as somehow infringing of the mother’s ‘freedom’).

    What comes first. rights or responsibilities?!
    I think if you take responsibility to set boundaries, the rest gets a lot easier.

    • Andrea K!
      Yes! Did you ever see my “Stop Talking” back posts? Search for those on The Parenting will enjoy them!
      Verbosity is not the way to set boundaries with small children, and in fact, often creates a very insecure and anxious child.

      Many blessings, thank you for being here!

  13. Its really nice n amazing Carrie…I understand about d boundaries u are talkng about but sometimes I get confused…I am a mothr of 3.4 yrs old. I m struggling with a situation these days with her n dont knw hw to wrk on eg. She can pull her pants up aftr cmng from washroom bt she will alwys ask me to do..she can drink watr bt she wants me to hold d glass n mke her drink..she climbs the stairs with me n sometyms whn she is slow n i climb fastr n wait fr her upstairs she starts cryng requestng me to cum dwn n tke her alng wid me whn I clearly mention her tht she can come n I m already waitng fr her..she thn comes n says to me tht I shud I hv come to her whn she was requsting me…n I really dnt knw wht to say..n thn I tell her tht I already told u I m waitng upstairs…she cries fr just a while n I divert her to smethng else .I even mke it a fun tym during sch situations bt evrytym ths is nt hlpng…n if once I say no to her I dnt chnge myslf to yes evn if she starts cryng..I stick to my no…so tht my msg goes to her clearly..plz gve sme suggestions on ths..thanku a lot:)

    • Nidhi,
      Yes, boundaries are always in the context of developmental appropriateness. All the things you are describing is very, very normal for a little three year old. So, you make games. How fast can you pull up your pants? I am going to count! Can you hop like a bunny up the stairs. Here I am, little three year old, peek a boo! Think less no, but shaping the environment that you are in for a three year old. Yes, no, is important at times, but with such small things, unless it is hurting herself, or others, or property, I would think of a way to be creative, speak in pictures, have her move in action and love the smallness of the three year old.
      Hope that helps,

    • Thanku so much Carrie..I will surely do d same n m sure my lil one will hv fun:) thanku again:)

  14. Hi–I was wondering what homeschool curriculum you use ! I have a 11 month old and my husband and I recently decided that we will be homeschooling. I like your perspective and would love to know what you use.

    • Tracy,
      If you look under the Homeschooling tab at the top, you can choose by age/grade and see what we have been doing. We are Waldorf homeschoolers.

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