It’s hard to know where to draw the line. We want our kids to be risk takers, to be expressive, to be unique and to go for it.

What if all of that “going for it” grows into attention-seeking narcissism, and the most important part of their world is themselves?

Oh, I’m not talking about pushing the kid down in front of them so they can get to the slide first. I’m talking about interrupting when others are speaking because they just have to say something. I’m talking about performing their perfected cartwheels when it’s time to listen quietly or take out the trash. I’m talking about shouting or pouting when you are asking for simple obedience.

Many times we think of boundaries and freedom as sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum. Not so.

Freedom sits smack in the middle of boundaries and it’s up to us to set them for our children.

When we set healthy boundaries, it gives children the freedom to make independent choices that empower growth and nurture discernment. Boundaries allow us to say, “Here, you can choose all of this because it is good for you.” It helps parents to say “yes” instead of “no.”

Where do you set boundaries?

Decide what the deal breakers are. What are the things that you absolutely cannot tolerate? What drives you crazy? What is important to grow in your child? Do other people enjoy being around my children? Answer those questions and work backwards in steps.

One of the deal breakers in our house is that you never hurt your family. Our mantra became “We are a family and families take care of each other.” From before the time our second son was born we began telling our oldest, “You are going to have a brother. He will be your best friend. You will be the best big brother. You will love him and help take care of him. He will love you so much because you are his brother, his best friend.”

On Tyler’s 21st birthday, LB’s toast defined our deal breaker. “I am the luckiest person in the whole world because I’ve gotten to grow up in the same house with my best friend.” That toast didn’t come about on the eve of the party. It started in small steps seventeen years prior.

How do you hold the boundaries?

You hold them by never ignoring them. You never let those things go and you never turn aside when you’d rather not deal with it. You hold them quietly and consistently. You redirect the child’s attention when they are little and restate what is permissible as the years pass. “You may stand by my side while I’m talking to an adult,” rather than “Stop running all over the building while I’m talking.” Teaching boundaries guides our children in what to do instead of correcting when the line has been crossed.

Teaching healthy boundaries bares the fruit of empowered freedom to choose what is best.