Bottom line – kids need boundaries and hope to succeed in life




Single parents need to clearly, positively and assertively communicate boundaries to children. But in order to do this single parents must be able to have boundaries in place for themselves.

Why are boundaries and guidelines so important to children?

To help you understand the why of boundaries, let’s take a little trip. Let’s say that we have to go to an appointment. We leave the house in plenty of time. Now there are two different routes that we can take. Each road is a dark stretch of a country road. It is nighttime and we are alone. Just as we leave the house it begins to rain.

The first road

  • The first road has clearly defined lanes marked with bright stripes.
  • When the road becomes narrow with deep culverts and ditches on the side, there are guardrails and wide shoulders along the side.
  • There are signs indicating sharp curves.
  • There are clearly marked no passing zones when needed.
  • There are speed limit signs telling you to slow down and giving you an idea of how fast you can safely travel.
  • You notice a sign ahead indicating there is an intersection coming up with a traffic light and you may have to stop.
  • Then you notice street signs telling you where you are.

The second road is quite different

  • This road has a faded centerline, and you are not exactly where your side of the road begins and ends.
  • As your car climbs the hill you suspect that there are steep ditches along the side of the road but you don’t see any guard rails.
  • There are no shoulders along the side of the road, just steep cliffs.
  • As the road narrows and curves you look for traffic signs indicating when the next curve will appear but you only see faded unrecognizable signs.
  • There’s no warning sign of an up and coming intersection.
  • There are no posted speed limits.

Which road will you choose to travel?

Which road do you feel more comfortable traveling?

On which road do you feel the safest? Why?

We choose to travel the road with boundaries because we feel safe; we have clear expectations of what’s to come and where we are going.

Children need boundaries

  • To feel safe
  • To have clear expectations of what’s to come
  • What’s expected of them
  • To know where they are going

Single parents cannot control what takes place in other environments but they can take control in their own homes.

When there are no boundaries

Preschool age children

  • This age child will take control through their potty training. You cannot force a child to go or not go to the bathroom.
  • They also use eating as a manipulative tool. You cannot force a child to eat. You can encourage, cajole, put it in their mouths but you cannot make them swallow.

Elementary age

  • Kids this age have to have some control over their lives.
  • They may use not doing their homework or manipulating you into doing it for them or helping and doing most of the work
  • They will use their academic performance as a tool to push back. Parents will help them study their spelling and they do well at home, but then flunk the actual test at school
  • They may use eating too much or not eating as a way to have control
  • Older elementary age children will choose friends they know you will not approve


Teens are smart and they especially need boundaries or their lives will be out of control. They need to know what is expected; what is accepted and what is negotiable.

  • Teens will take control through eating disorders
  • Illegal use of drugs,
  • Drinking including binge drinking
  • Hanging out with kids they know the parent doesn’t approve of
  • Teens will use their grades and schoolwork when they think they have a free for all parent.

Two questions to help single parents get on the right track for developing boundaries

Help single parents determine what they want for their children when they grow up by using the following questions.

  • When the children are adults, what character traits and qualities do you want them to posses?
  • Do you want your children to grow up to be healthy, happy, contributing adults to the society they live in?

Start today. Change patterns in the home. It is important for single parents to set goals of what they want to accomplish. Help them get a picture in their mind of what they expect from their children.

Three ways single parents can influence children to develop boundaries

These are also good tips for anyone wanting to set boundaries for children including teachers, church leaders and parents.

  1. Teaching:  Children are not born knowing right from wrong. We have to teach them what we want of them. Teach them what is wrong; what is good; what is appropriate.
  2. Modeling:  Modeling is another way to influence children. Children do 80 percent of what they see but only 20% of what they are told. When a parent models appropriately, a child will see and do appropriately.
  3. Internalizing the boundary:  According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend the authors of Boundaries with Kids “To internalize something is to make it part of yourself.”

Parents must allow children to internalize the boundaries set before them. That means they can’t rescue a child from the situation. For example, they can’t take the child’s homework to school every time he forgets it. Allowing a child to suffer consequences helps them internalize.

When single parents have boundaries for their lives their family will have hope. They will have joy. They will have fun in their relationship with each other. And their parent-child relationship will be stronger.



This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on June 26, 2015.

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One thought on “Bottom line – kids need boundaries and hope to succeed in life

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Solutions strategies to 10 of the most exasperating single parent discipline situations

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