Boundary-Based Discipline Techniques

Discipline that Focuses on Setting Limits and Establishing Boundaries

Boundary-based discipline teaches kids to follow the rules.
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Boundary-based discipline is one of the five major types of discipline strategies. The theory behind boundary-based discipline is that when children feel safe, they’ll behave.

Boundary-based discipline involves setting limits that show kids what they are allowed to do and what they aren’t. When kids are clear on what their limits are, and they see that you’re prepared to follow through with consequences, they’ll be less likely to misbehave.

According to boundary-based discipline, kids will test the limits to see how caregivers will react. When caregivers make it clear ahead of time what those limits are, kids won’t feel the need to keep testing those limits. As a result, behavior problems will be reduced.

Examples of Kids Testing Limits

Kids of all ages often enjoy testing the limits. Here are some examples of ways in which kids try to see what they can get away with and try to see how adults are going to react:

  • A 4-year-old who knows he’s not allowed to stand on the furniture, gets on the arm of the couch on his knees to see if his parents respond.
  • A 6-year-old says, “No!” when told to brush his teeth in hopes he can keep watching TV longer.
  • An 8-year-old says, “I’ll do it in a few minutes. I’m almost to the next level of my game,” when he’s told to set the table for dinner.
  • A 10-year-old loses his privileges to play outside so he insists he needs to take the dog out because the dog needs exercise.
  • A 12-year-old sees her mother is talking on the phone so she goes into the kitchen to raid the snack drawer after her mother told her she can’t have a snack.
  • A 14-year-old is told to get off his computer for the night so he starts using his phone to surf the web.
  • A 16-year-old arrives home 20 minutes after his curfew because nothing happened when he was 10 minutes late the previous night.

    Boundary-Based Discipline Techniques

    Boundary-based discipline uses a variety of discipline techniques. Kids are told what the boundaries are and if they break the rules, a consequence is given.

    • Limits are clearly communicated Establish house rules and keep a written list rules posted. Set limits in advance when you have expectations outside of what is on the rule list. When you have expectations that aren’t on the list, make your expectations clear. Say, “You can your computer for 30 minutes tonight,” or “You’ll need to clean your room before you can go outside.”
    • Warnings are given when possible- Provide warnings whenever possible. Try to give a five minute warning for transitions. Say, “In five minutes it will be time to shut off your game so you can set the table.”
    • Choices are given when possible- Clearly outline choices so that kids can see that their behavior will either result in positive or negative consequences. By saying, “You can either shut off the game now and set the table or I’ll take the game away until tomorrow,” it will make it clear that your child has a choice. This helps avoid power struggles and shows kids that you’re not trying to force them to do something but instead, it’s their responsibility to make the choice.
    • Logical Consequences Logical consequences are often used in boundary-based discipline. A logical consequence, such as taking away a child’s computer privileges because he refused to get off it when told, shows kids that their behavior results in direct consequences.
    • Natural ConsequencesNatural consequences are often used and can be a great way to help kids learn from their own mistakes while teaching them responsibility. A child who forgets to do his homework until five minutes before bed, might be given the natural consequence of having to go to bed at the usual time without getting his homework done.
    • Time-Outs- Boundary-based discipline uses time-out as an effective way to deal with misbehavior as well. It might be called, “quiet time” or “taking a break” but can be used as a tool to help kids learn how to calm themselves down.

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