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  • Robbin McManne

Rules vs Boundaries; What's the Difference and Why You Should Care...

I had some questions about where to draw the line in terms of boundaries/limits from my last blog post, “Say yes more than you say no?” I thought I would share my thoughts



I am a firm believer in limits and boundaries!

(BTW, to me both those words mean the same thing). First off, I do not let my kids run my household and I say ‘no’ A LOT. The difference in my home is that I do my best to parent WITH my kids, and try not to parent OVER them.

What does this mean? It means they have a voice in how the family runs and my husband and I listen and consider what they have to say. If our boys have an opinion, they are heard. That doesn’t mean we let them run our home, but we are flexible and try to create as many win/win scenarios as possible. See my Xbox example below.


So what is the difference between Rules and Boundaries anyway? Let’s break it down:

Rules are inflexible and use fear and punishment in order to enforce them and are therefore rooted in control over the other person.

They are often enforced with statements like “If you do/don’t do this, I’ll do this to you.” Or, “you must follow or else!”

In the short term, you might get your child to do what you want but it’s the fear of punishment that is influencing them, and not their willingness to do the right thing or ‘follow the rule’.

Rules create a scenario where one person wins (parent) while the other loses (child). Children may not feel heard and it doesn’t leave any space for empathy. This can lead to disconnected communication.


How do rules compare to boundaries?

Boundaries are can be both firm and flexible; you set a boundary that you want to hold but there is also room for compromise. Because of this, they allow for cooperation; you can work together to find a solution that works for parent and child– parenting with, not over (like in my house). This creates a win/win.

Looking for a win/win means that you are therefore looking for solutions for both parent and child. This opens up a space for discussion and connection with your child that only enhances your relationship.

Boundaries are supportive meaning you set a boundary that is meant to keep your child safe.


Here’s how they play out in my home:

I have a love-hate relationship with our Xbox (I should really say hate-hate). When we first got it, I had a RULE that my boys only got one hour a day and that was IT! I set a timer and as soon as it went off they have to shut it down. This caused a lot of anger and frustration in our home because they thought it was unfair and I wasn’t interested in listening to their complaints. I almost threw the thing out the window because it caused so much stress!

BUT, my husband and I decided to change the ridged rule into a BOUNDARY. How is it different? My boys still have an hour on the Xbox a day BUT they are now responsible to keep track of their time (no timers) and when the time is up, I have told them that I will allow them to finish the game/mission they are playing and then it’s time to wrap it up.

This works so much better! They understand their time is limited but they also know that I understand that it sucks to have to shut it off in the middle of the game so they can have a few extra minutes. What’s a couple of extra minutes when I get happier kids and more peace in my home? This is a huge win/win for us!


Both rules and boundaries can prevent misbehaviour....

However you run your home, I can tell you that both rules and boundaries work, but I ask you to consider which one you are using. With rules, the payoff to children for compliance is simply avoiding a negative consequence or punishment. Rules are the end of the conversation and with boundaries, our kids can be part of the conversation, thus encouraging them to take part in finding a solution. THIS is how we create boundaries that peacefully stick!


P.S. You may be wondering how you even come up with boundaries.

eYour boundaries should be directly aligned with your family values and expectations. Start by defining your values and from there, work out your boundaries that relate to each value.

For example, one of our values is that we “speak to each other with respect”. This means our boundary is that we don’t yell, shout, or call each other names.

Make sure everyone in your family knows the list of values and why you have them. Getting everyone on the same page, and in agreement with why you have these values, makes it so much easier to enforce your boundaries.on using boundaries versus rules and the interesting impact this had on my kids.


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