Rules, standards and boundaries

What rules, standards and boundaries should we have and how should they change as a child grows up? Do we have the rules we had as children that have just been passed down through the generations such as ‘you respect your elders’, or rules that are based on respect for everyone regardless of age? Or are our rules ways of controlling what would otherwise be a wayward child and result in an uncontrollable household? 

Let’s keep it simple here and look at a stepped approach - we have some rules, we set standards and we then have boundaries...


There are times when rules are appropriate, they represent what is acceptable and unacceptable in the home. To have integrity and be believable and therefore do-able for a child or adolescent, they should be the same for everyone and they should be very clear. Examples of rules might be:

  • No shoes in the house

  • No devices in bedrooms

  • No elbows on the table

There are only two ways a rule can go, shoes and elbows are either on, or off and devices are either in or out. Yet, we may actually like to put our elbows on the table as it makes for a relaxed meal but dislike how our children sprawl over the table. It is worth noting that one of the traits of ‘teenagedom’ is that they start to see where there is one rule for parents and adults, and another for children, and they see through our double standards and this can very quickly start to be a point of contention in the home. At this point, teens can start to want more equal or ‘adult’ rules because what rules they are bound by starts to determine their perceived importance and level of respect in the home. Perhaps at this point, rather than rules for rules sake, we need to consider setting standards. ​Setting Standards

Having an understanding of ‘respect’ is a really good way to understand the importance setting standards. When you set a standard, you say what is decent and respectful behaviour and what is not, and everyone abides by it. It honours each person. For example, we can see practically that we all deserve that level of standard without exception. The lowest level of behaviour we should ever have for anyone is ‘decency’ and then that sets a standard within and outside the home. Respect is given on the grounds that everyone, no matter their job, background, or age, deserves to be spoken to and treated with decency. That is the standard that is set and lived by all, no matter their age or position in the hierarchy of the home. Parents are the ones who need to model this behaviour first for others to see the standard as a movement coming from the body, not just a sound coming from words that do not have the integrity of being lived out in family life. It is then quite simple to understand that having boundaries with standards rather than rules, supports us all because when our boundaries have a foundation set in standards that everyone knows and lives by. Boundaries

A boundary is more of a guide that says to everyone, within that space you can move freely, making your own decisions and experimenting with the outcomes of those decisions. The boundaries move as the child grows and the perimeter expands as the parent sees the child is more emotionally and physically capable to deal with the current boundary. Our job, as parents, is to offer the emotional and physical skills to match that expanded boundary. There are times when the child can outgrow the boundaries and overstep or go beyond them. At that point an assessment needs to be made as to why this happened and if, perhaps, we missed seeing their new level or whether they are going beyond it, and they need to be called back to build a more solid foundation to stand on trying to be more responsible than they are ready for. It is worth discussing this together. If the decisions our children are making, are without any awareness of their consequences, then they can be supported to see that they need to be accountable for the choices they are making. It is very clear when children are being responsible and accountable, and it is very clear when they are not. Discussing this process with your young person establishes what their thought processes are, and listening to the reasoning for their decision will offer great insight into their decision-making process and yours. Listening without judgment is important because then we can understand how ready they are or, are not, for the boundary to move. Setting boundaries and standards is supported by our connection with ourselves internally. We can start to build awareness of what we are feeling, so we build a foundation to be 'parent-fit' to manage what is coming at us externally. With this internal connection we can bring our all to the job of parenting and discover the huge potential we have to learn, grow and have fun together.

Further reading

Role modelling from the inside-out



Boundaries, parties, lying and me

Image by succo from Pixabay