Setting boundaries for toddlers and preschool children

setting boundaries for toddlers

When a child is small, we often use boundaries to protect them and keep them away from harm or danger. But it is important that you explain why boundaries are there - for instance, if you pull away from an open fire explain why.

When parents give orders, children often dig in their heels. One way to stop this happening is to let them know why something is important. Boundaries are about setting the bottom line or making agreements about what is acceptable and what is not.

Boundaries work far better if they are made and agreed by everyone. When children see the sense of it, or know you've taken their opinions into account, they are more motivated to co-operate.

Testing your limits

As children grow, most will test the limits - this is quite normal behaviour. When they become older you may need to change or amend these boundaries to reflect different or new behaviours and experiences.

When you do this, involve your child so that you can negotiate the new boundaries together. Too many boundaries can cause resentment and be impossible to maintain. Work out what is really important to you and what you could let go.

Rules can help you keep your child safe, but as they get older you will need to negotiate and let them take more reposnibilty for their own safety. There may be times when your values conflict with the values that your children are learning from other people and the media. This may be when you find yourself negotiating.


  • Remember that setting boundaries can sometimes make children feel safe when the world seems otherwise out of control.
  • Occasionally giving children responsibility for their own safety is a good thing.

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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