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Setting boundaries - giving children choices

Setting boundaries – giving your toddler limited choices

Today I’m talking about setting boundaries by introducing choices with limits for our toddlers and children.

It may seem like quite a scary prospect to start letting our child choose and have some kind of control – that can seem quite terrifying. However, we need to allow our little children to have some freedom, and this will make other things easier, as you will see below.


As always you can watch the video, with or without sound, or listen to the sound only, or if you prefer to read then a transcript is below.


What we can do as parents is we give them that freedom, we give them that choice, but we are setting boundaries around it so they are safe.


When a child gets to around two years old, they start to realise that they have some kind of influence over their parents and other people around them. They have power to make you do things. And that can actually be quite exhilarating or them and make them feel good. But it can also be very scary, especially if suddenly they start demanding things and they get their own way. They will start to wonder, what else can I do?


Similarly, though, if every time they try to push those boundaries a bit to see where they are, if they constantly hit that brick wall, they are similarly going to keep pushing because actually they’re not getting any freedom at all. So, we want them to actually feel like they’ve got some kind of control and it helps them feel secure and it helps them feel listened to, which is a huge thing, because at the end of the day, none of us like to feel that we’re not being listened to.

We want our children to feel like actually we are hearing them. But by setting boundaries we are actually still in control, so the trick when you give them a choice is to make sure that you as a parent don’t really care what the answer is.

“Do you want cornflakes or Rice Krispies?”
“I want Rice Krispies”
“Brilliant – have some Rice Krispies”

They’ve changed their mind. Hmm…. OK, so they’ve chosen their Rice Krispies. You’ve poured it for them. Then they’ve decided they want cornflakes. What are you going to do?


This is the bit where it can get quite tricky because you could just respond, I don’t really care what you have for breakfast. You might be a bit more insistent about the Rice Krispies if you have poured it. But if you haven’t actually done anything with it, you might just think, yeah, OK, whatever.

But actually, that doesn’t give them a boundary, to help them understand that their choices have some kind of meaning to them.

So what we need to do is when they choose something, we need to follow through with that.

“Do you want cornflakes or Rice Krispies?”
“I want Rice Krispies”
“Brilliant – have some Rice Krispies”
“No, I’ve changed my mind, I want Cornflakes!”
“That’s really annoying when you change your mind. I’ll tell you what. Today you’ve picked Rice Krispies – tomorrow you can pick cornflakes.”


They might not like it, but actually it’s going to make them feel safer. And they will start to understand that when you say something, you mean it, but it also allows them to have some kind of freedom.


setting boundaries


What colour dress do you want to wear? Red or pink? What cup do you want? Pink or blue?, simple choices where you actually don’t care. Where do you want to go to feed the ducks, or to the park?

They need to know that what they decide is what is going to happen. So make sure you never give them a choice where you don’t want one of the answers to be the answer that they may pick and don’t leave open-ended questions.


“What you want to do today?”
“I want to go to the park”


But it’s absolutely pouring with rain, and you now have to explain why they can’t go, and deal with their disappointment, all because you left the original question too open.

Put your choices in place, give them an option of two things. Two things that you don’t mind what the answer is. They feel empowered and that’s going to help when they start to sort of push back a little bit more, because you can say, “well, you’ve made that decision. You know, you could have picked this, but you’ve picked that. Next time, let’s pick the other thing.”

Setting boundaries is going to make them feel safe and it’s also going to give them a feeling of control.

What they don’t realise is actually you’re still in complete and utter control and that’s going to make them feel safe. This is something that’s going to take you through right the way through childhood into the teenage years.

It’s also really important for bedtime and sleep. If you implement this regularly during the day, because if your little one realises that they can change their mind about tiny things during the day, then why can’t they at night? It’s much easier for them to learn and understand what those boundaries are when they’re in the daytime, when they’re much more awake and much more alert and are learning than when they’re really tired and they’re really grumpy.

/setting boundaries


So when they just want to get into your bed, for example, and you’re saying no? Well, actually, no doesn’t really mean no in the day – so why is it going to mean no at night?

So it’s really, really important that you’re setting boundaries during the day and then you can follow through into the evening as well.


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