A positive, effective shift from rules and punishments

Unlike rules (with punishments or negative consequences), boundaries* are characterized by the following:


Boundaries are clear, specific and clearly communicated. They work best when you have the students’ attention, when they understands what you’re requesting, when the positive outcome of their cooperation is clear and when specific requirements, conditions or time factors are spelled out. For example, “I’ll read for the last 10 minutes of class as long as you’re quiet and your work is done.”


Boundaries respect and consider the needs of everyone involved. They attempt to create ways for both you and your students to get what you want. For example, “You can take another library book home as soon as you return the ones you borrowed last week,” or “I want to hear about this problem. I’ll be free to give you my full attention as soon as I give the reading group their assignments.”


Boundaries work to prevent problems and are typically expressed before a problem occurs or before it is allowed to continue (or get worse). For example, “You can use this equipment as soon as you can demonstrate how to use it correctly.” “Let’s stay quiet in the hall so we don’t disturb any of the other classes.”


The most effective boundaries typically focus on the positive outcomes of cooperation. They are also expressed positively, as promises rather than threats or simply as information (with the implication that the positive outcome is available, for example, until a certain time or under certain conditions). For example, “If you do your homework 10 days in a row, you can have the 11’th day off (or do for extra credit),” or “The art center closes at 2:00.”

Follow through

Follow through—allowing a positive consequence to occur only when the child does what you’ve asked—is what communicates that you mean what you say and you say what you mean. It increases the likelihood that your students will take you seriously when you ask for what you want, and it improves the chances that they will cooperate as well (if it’s really the only way they can get what they want).**

*Boundaries are tools for building cooperation in relationships, for letting others know what you want, and for letting them know which options are available to them (for getting what they want). Set boundaries when you want behaviors to change and wish to avoid negative, stressful behaviors such as nagging, yelling, threatening or punishing to get what you want. Whether you use boundaries in relationships with children or other adults, the characteristics of boundaries and dynamics of boundary setting are the same.

**Boundaries allow you to follow through without even getting angry! Follow through works wonders, but it requires patience, faith, consistency, and courage!

Excerpted from The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s & Don’ts of Effective Parenting, by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 1997, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL.

This page is also available in French.

Related articles and handouts about boundaries:

Parenting Teens: Where do You Draw the Line?
The Challenge of Setting Boundaries
9 Things to Remember when Setting a Boundary
11 Reasons to Use Boundaries
6 Reasons to Not Ask for Excuses
Rules and Boundaries (for educators)

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