I love you, but I don't like you: Setting the boundaries our kids need

My mom often reminds me of the time she was putting my hair in a bun and I didn’t

want her to. In my simple 5-year-old honesty and through my “crocodile tears” I

cried “Mommy, I love you but I really don’t like you right now!”

That one moment stands out to her because I expressed my emotions so

dramatically, but I remember feeling this way often; throughout my childhood

and into adolescence. Mostly it was when I didn’t get what I wanted, or I didn’t

think she understood me. I was forever questioning her authority and truly

believing that she had “no right” to set such ridiculous limits. I perfected the

eye-roll and stomp-away response in my childish frustration. As families

resume a more normal schedule after more than 18 months of the upheavals of

a pandemic, resetting household limits is likely presenting many parents with

similar emotions these days.

Years later, I certainly got my comeuppance as a parent of two daughters. I realized

how hard it was to set limits and to be unpopular with my own children. Raising

children is a life-long challenge of preserving love through the unpopular limits that

children need: secure boundaries, established through rules and routines set by

parent(s), reduce anxiety for children. Consistent times for meals, homework, and

sleep, along with expectations around chores and indulgences such as screen time

create predictability in a child's life.

Children are born seeking an understanding of the world around them and just as we

can learn through failure, children learn from pushing back against limits and

breaking rules. Remembering foundational love and appreciation for your children, as

well as your goals and aspirations for the people they will become, can make it easier

to set and follow through.

Now that our community’s families have been “back to school” for a few weeks, we’re

seeing routines established and school year rules reinstated. As families make this

adjustment, here are a few ideas for setting the much-needed boundaries for your


  1. Solicit input from everyone in the family and be open to compromise. When children participate in the process of setting the family rules they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility toward following them;

  2. Seek agreement between all parent-figures in the family. If parents aren’t “on the same page” children will be confused and less likely to follow rules;

  3. Simplify the rules to provide clarity and ease in following the family’s expectations;

  4. Specify the consequences for breaking the rules - no surprises;

  5. Set a good example for your children by following the same family rules as parents/

  6. Seek professional help for stabilizing parent-child relationships when needed.

Lynette Spencer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Managing Partner at Action

Consulting and Therapy in Geneva, IL.

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