top of page

The difference between rules and a boundaries.

Updated: Jan 26

As we approach Christmas and get a chance to relax a bit, sometimes things go up in the air in terms of routine and sleep. It's good to be mindful that sometimes by relaxing things, children don't quite know where they stand, what's happening and what to expect.

It is a good idea to think about the things that your child might struggle with and prepare for that. I call this Stage 1 "Review".

Perhaps you know that your little one will struggle not to rip open the presents under the tree. Perhaps you know that they get overwhelmed having other children in the house playing with their toys. Perhaps you know that your child really doesn't like Christmas dinner, and will likely ask for something else, or won't eat much.

Instead of letting these things happen and then feeling frustrated and unprepared yourself, a good idea is to talk them through things first (see stage 1 in my 3 R wheel - "review"). When children know what to expect and what you expect of them, 'big' emotional moments and tantrums are less likely to occur. And if they do still occur, you have already thought it all through and have an anchor to go back to. You can remind them, calmly rather than feel frustrated, angry, reactive and caught off guard.

So what is the difference between a rule and a boundary?

Both are pre-thought out, appropriate measure to try and ensure your child knows what to expect and what is expected of them. They both provide a level of security and help children feel safe. Even if they struggle to stick to them, by reinforcing rules and boundaries, you are showing them that level of security is still there. We can of course be flexible, but sometimes that can make children doubt what else is 'movable' and it can cause even more push back. It really depends on your child how flexible you can be with things. Some REALLY thrive on and need very solid rules and boundaries, others not so much.

The difference:

Rules: There to show what is expected of the child (not actually in your control).

Boundary: What YOU will do to help the child maintain that rule. What the child can expect from you.

Maybe you can come up with some 'fair' rules together. However, even if children have helped to come up with the new rules, they may still need support remembering and sticking to them (because they are children!). Furthermore because things will be highly emotional in every direction over Christmas, they may struggle even more!

That’s where boundaries come in.

What YOU will do if a rule is forgotten or pushed. Your boundaries should not be threatening or disproportionate- it is best to look at them as a ‘safety’ measure.

Something that keeps the child safe and makes them FEEL safe, knowing that you will help them achieve what is expected of them. This is why it's ALWAYS better to think about these things in advance and not in the moment because they need consideration. In the moment, we are way more likely to throw out a threat that is way off, over the top and causes more damage. Either that, or we then have to go back on things because it was totally unrealistic, making the child feel even more confused and untrusting of what we say.

Children like boundaries and rules - if they are appropriate and achievable. They help them to know what to expect. They WILL still struggle to stick by them though, because they are small humans and their brains are still developing. All this work is helping to develop their brains and their pre-frontal cortex so that as they grow they are able to make better decisions, do what is right, and regulate their impulses more effectively themselves.

Some examples for you:

Rule: No opening presents until after Christmas lunch on Christmas day.

Boundary: If you keep trying to look inside the presents I will have to put them all away.

Rule: If people are in our house we let them take turns and use our things, (but they don't take them away).

Boundary: If you don't want X to play with certain toys, I will pop them in the loft over Christmas, but it means that you can't play with them either.

If you would like to learn more about all of this and my approach to reframing behaviour and would like direct help with how to apply this in your house you can either book a Parent in your Pocket call OR alternatively, you can sign up to my mailing list to receive more blogs and emails, or come and join me over on instagram.


bottom of page