When Do Kids Learn Boundaries?

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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I'm writing this post from both a professional and personal point of view today.

Professionally speaking, I’ve worked with families for over 15 years and I’ve consistently had parents ask me how to set and teach healthy boundaries to their children. From a personal standpoint, my wife and I are learning every single day, by trial and error, how to set up, and maintain healthy boundaries with our children.

The formulation of this post began yesterday when I arrived home from work. My youngest son Sam and my oldest song Andre were in trouble…big trouble, in fact! The one thing you need to know about both of them is this- they each think they run the world. They also think the entire world exists to cater to them. I can’t blame them, however. Sam is the youngest and Andre used to be the youngest before our family grew in numbers.

So, when do kids learn boundaries? When do they respond to them? How do I know I am succeeding in setting the healthiest boundaries possible for my children?

I think kids learn and respond to boundaries the best when:

They are clearly defined.

Stating it over and over, with little to no confusion, gives clear definition to the boundaries you are setting for your children. In our kitchen, we have “The Berry Family Expectations” hanging on the wall. My wife literally created a framed picture that lists our family expectations. It’s posted right beside the refrigerator. They are: first time obey, respectful talking, & respectful behavior. We felt these 3 simple boundaries/expectations were easy to understand and acknowledge. We also realized they encompassed a vast array of expectations. You can fit every poor choice or bad behavior under one of these expectations.

So, when Sam behaved poorly yesterday, the content of his crime was not the issue (well, it was, but that’s beside the point for this post). The issue was that his behavior was bad and that’s a violation of boundary/expectation #3. The same was true for Andre. He said something very disrespectful when he arrived home from school. The content was an issue but the consequence came into play simply because he violated expectation #2.

They are simple.

Along with being clearly defined, are your boundaries simple? Remember, these are children we are talking about (even if you have a teenager). Their brains are still in development, and will be until their mid-20’s. You will only confuse them by piling on complex or hard-to-figure out boundaries. You will also confuse them by setting up a bunch of them. Make your boundaries or expectations simple, clear & easy to comprehend. Following this with our 3 family expectations has helped tremendously. As I stated earlier, there is not a poor choice or behavior that does not fit under one of them, I promise.

They are reinforced.

In 2004 I went on a short-term mission trip to Tecate, Mexico with college-age students. Tecate is a town that sits right on the US-Mexico border. Our job for the week was to bring supplies to the youth groups serving on sites to build homes for families. As we moved from site to site one of the roads we traveled on was right next to the actual border. There was no denying where the boundary was. Why? Because all along the route there were marked border patrol vehicles reinforcing the border.

The boundary was already clearly defined by the large iron fence that stretched as far as the eye could see. My personal response all week was, “I’m not going near that boundary, ever!” This was because of the visible reinforcement.

When you clearly define your boundaries, keep them simple, and reinforce them visibly and consistently, you will see maximum response from your children. They might not like your boundaries, but that’s not the point. Of course they won’t like them. But deep in their hearts they crave them. It helps them to know they are cared for by you!

Clearly defined…simple to understand….consistently reinforced.

Anything else? I would love to hear from some of your parenting expertise on boundaries. Have you learned by trial and error like us? Have you spent time working with families and have some insight on this topic?

Comment now and join the conversation. 


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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.