And why they are better than rules

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.

The examples are for use with your children. However, whether you use boundaries in relationships with children or other adults, the characteristics of boundaries and dynamics of boundary setting are the same.


Boundaries are clear, specific, and clearly communicated. They work best when you have your children’s attention, when they understand 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 you the next chapter in your story as long as you’re in your pajamas with your teeth brushed by the time the big hand is on the six.”


Boundaries respect and consider the needs of everyone involved and teach children to do the same. They attempt to create ways for both you and your children to get what you want. For example, “I’ll be happy to drive you to the mall as soon as you finish your chores” or “I want to hear about your day. I’ll be free to give you my full attention in 15 minutes.”


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 play my stereo as soon as you demonstrate how to use it correctly (or replace the CD you damaged).” “When we go to the store, you can select one kind of dessert (or cereal).”


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 only available until a certain time or under certain conditions). For example, “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll wash them for you” or “The kitchen closes at 8:00.” (Here’s some more information about positive consequences.)

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

Excerpted and adapted from The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s & Don’ts of Effective Parenting by Dr. Jane Bluestein, © 2021, Father Sky Publishing, Albuquerque, NM.

© 1997, 2013, Dr. Jane Bluestein

Related links:

6 Reasons to Not Ask “Why”
11 Reasons to Use Boundaries
9 Things to Remember when Setting Boundaries
The Challenge of Setting Boundaries
Guidelines for Handling Your Children’s Negative Behavior
Guidelines for Offering Choices to Your Children
Magic Sentences for Effective Communication
Motivating Cooperative Behavior
Thinking of “Consequences” as the Good Stuff

Podcast: The Choice is Yours with Lynn Collins

Book: Listas Para Padres: Qué Hacer Y Qué No
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting
Book: Parents, Teens and Boundaries: How to Draw the Line

Audio: Parent Tapes (mp3 download)

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