Boundary Based Discipline Techniques for Kids

Boundary-based discipline teaches kids to follow the rules.

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Boundary-based discipline is one of the five major types of discipline strategies. The theory behind boundary-based discipline is simple—children behave when they feel safe.

Boundary-based discipline involves establishing clear limits that show kids what they are allowed to do and what's out of bounds. Then, when kids know what the consequences are for stepping out of bounds, they'll be more compliant.

According to boundary-based discipline, kids will test the limits to see how caregivers will react. But, when they know the limits and the consequences, they are less likely to test their caregivers. Consequently, behavior problems are reduced.

Examples of Limit Testing

Kids of all ages often enjoy testing the limits to see what they can get away with. Here are some common examples of ways in which kids test the limits:

  • A 4-year-old who knows he’s not allowed to stand on the furniture gets on the arm of the couch on his knees to see if his parents respond.
  • A 6-year-old says, “No!” when told to brush his teeth in hopes he can keep watching TV longer.
  • An 8-year-old says, “I’ll do it in a few minutes. I’m almost to the next level of my game,” when he’s told to set the table for dinner.
  • A 10-year-old who lost his privileges to play outside for the day insists he needs to exercise the dog in the yard.
  • A 12-year-old sees her mother is talking on the phone so she goes into the kitchen to raid the snack drawer after her mother told her she can’t have a snack.
  • A 14-year-old is told to get off his computer for the night so he starts using his phone to surf the web.
  • A 16-year-old arrives home 20 minutes after his curfew because nothing happened when he was 10 minutes late the previous night.

Boundary-Based Discipline Techniques

Boundary-based discipline uses a variety of discipline techniques to address rule violations. Here are a few common boundary-based discipline strategies:

  • Communicate the limits. Establish house rules and keep a written list of rules posted. When you have expectations that aren’t on the list, make your expectations clear. Say, “You can use your computer for 30 minutes tonight,” or “You’ll need to clean your room before you can go outside.”
  • Give warnings whenever possible. Try to give a five-minute warning for transitions. Say, “In five minutes it will be time to shut off your game so you can set the table.” When your child is testing the limits, offer an if...then warning such as, "If you don't pick up the toys right now, then you won't be able to play with your blocks for the rest of the day." 
  • Offer choices. Clearly outline choices so that kids can see that their behavior will either result in positive or negative consequences. Say, “You can either shut off the game now and set the table or you can keep trying to play and lose your electronics until tomorrow." Make it clear that you're not forcing your kids to do something but instead, it’s their responsibility to make the choice.
  • Use logical consequences. A logical consequence, such as taking away a child’s computer privileges because he refused to turn off his video game, makes sense. The consequence is directly related to the misbehavior. 
  • Allow for natural consequences. Natural consequences help kids learn from their own mistakes while teaching them responsibility. If your child forgets to pack his cleats for soccer practice, the natural consequence might be that he isn't allowed to participate in the game.
  • Send your child to time-out. When your child is overstimulated or he is being defiant, send him to time-out. It might be called, “quiet time” or “taking a break” but can be used as a tool to help kids learn how to calm themselves down. Keep in mind, many kids will initially need support to remain calm. They will need this support through your calm as the parent or caregiver. So, you may need to brainstorm or offer ways for them to settle themselves.

Keep Your Discipline Consistent

Consistency is a key component of boundary-based discipline. Bending the rules or giving in after you've stated the rules can make behavior problems worse. When you follow through with consequences for each rule violation, your child will trust that you're a good leader and he'll feel safe in your care, which is essential if you want him to manage his behaviors well.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Winkler JL, Walsh ME, De blois M, Maré J, Carvajal SC. Kind discipline: Developing a conceptual model of a promising school discipline approach. Eval Program Plann. 2017;62:15-24. doi:10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2017.02.002

  2. Leijten P, Gardner F, Melendez-torres GJ, Knerr W, Overbeek G. Parenting behaviors that shape child compliance: A multilevel meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(10):e0204929. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0204929

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.