Here’s The Difference Between Boundaries, Limits, Natural Consequences, and Punishments

October 1, 2021

The Authentic Wife and Mom

Beth Rowles | The Conscious Marriage Coach

A boundary is what we need to love ourselves.

Example: respect for our body.

A limit is when we stop something that’s happening before the natural consequence can occur, because it would affect their health or well-being.

Example: bedtime.

A natural consequence is what occurs as the result of our behavior.

Example: being exhausted.

A punishment is something intended to cause discomfort that someone makes up and may have nothing to do with the behavior.

Example: school tardy.

What Boundaries Should We Hold?

We have four boundaries in our house;

  1. Respect for self
  2. Respect for mind
  3. Respect for our things
  4. Respect for others.

This is confusing – how do I really know the difference?

The simplest way to decide if it’s a boundary is to ask, does this teach them to love themselves?

The simplest way to know if it’s a limit you need to hold is to ask, will the natural consequences of their actions affect their health or wellbeing?

But how do I hold a limit?

Do you ever need to hold a limit? Yes, anytime the natural consequence affects their health or wellbeing (see above).

The way to hold limits is the same way that habits are formed. To make it easy, make it enjoyable, and (in the beginning at least) have them experience an immediate reward, which could be as simple as we don’t get our snack until we pick up. For kids, build these into the normal routine of the day.

Example: We snuggle and read after you brush your teeth.

Another way to hold limits is simply moving away from behavior that violates your boundaries. Teach your kids to let people know when their words or actions are unacceptable and to move away from that behavior (physically moving to the other side of the room, out of the room, taking a walk, etc.).

So what about punishments?

Do you ever need to give a punishment? No. Sometimes, your child will experience someone else’s punishment as a “natural” consequence of their action. An example is that they may get a detention for being tardy too many times or a speeding ticket for driving too fast. In most cases, as long as all their other needs are met, you’ll allow this or recognize that you’re unable to prevent it.

Punishments that violate our boundaries such as shaming, name-calling, spanking, swatting, smacking, popping, etc. undermine all of our efforts to teach our children discipline and boundaries. All physical punishments are abuse. There is no “correct” way to spank a child. Any time you violate your own child’s boundaries, you teach them that they are not lovable and worthy of respect, and that you are not to be trusted or listened to.

“Punishments are designed to control behavior rather than to encourage learning and development in the child. They are, according to all the relevant research, bound to backfire. They sabotage learning from consequences and hinder the ability to take responsibility. Punishments substitute the parent’s feelings and judgments for the lessons taught by reality.” – Dr. Gabor Maté

And what about natural consequences?

When do you allow natural consequences to play out? Anytime they do not affect your child’s health or wellbeing. These are how you teach. Then, as the parent, you assist them to correct or clean up the consequences of their actions. The guide is always to help them ‘make it right’ again.

“Actions have their own consequences in the world; we don’t need to create them.” – Dr. Gabor Maté

More from Gabor:

Dr. Gabor Maté wrote a fantastic parenting book disguised as a book about the origin and treatment of ADD. Having a spouse with ADD, I’ve found so much great information in it and confirmation of why my own work in our marriage was able to create such major behavioral shifts in him without him doing anything. Here are some nuggets of wisdom as related to the topic of boundaries from his book, Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It:

“Too often parents confuse discipline or good parenting with control. They are supported in this misbelief by their relatives and neighbors, or by voices in the media, who say that the only problem with the behavior of ADD children is that parents are too lax with their discipline, too weak to control their son or daughter. If that were true, children treated harshly should be the best behaved and should grow up into hte best citizens. As a survey of the population of any foster home or prison would show, the contrary is true…”

“It is futile to expect a child to do self-motivated and organized work if the parents’ lives express a near-desperate frezy to keep up with their own responsibilities, which is what I often see in the families of ADD children. Without structure that involves the whole family and is not just forced on the child alone, there cannot be autonomy…the atmosphere in the family will be calm and supportive, that meals and other group activities will be at regular times so that schedules can be adhered to, and that the parents will be available and present both in body and spirit.

“A supportive structure must include the setting of limits, boundaries demarcating where the autonomy of one person ends and that of another begins….

“The setting of limits works much better if the boundaries are defined as generously as possible, allowing maximum reasonable scope for individual choice. The rationale for the rule needs to be clearly articulated, so that the rule itself rather than the parent’s will is seen as authoritative. As always, attachment needs to be attended to, especially when we have to impose limits the child will not like and may resist.” – Dr. Gabor Maté

And another bit of wisdom here:

“Keep in mind that rapport and limit setting go hand in hand. As you increase limit setting, you need to increase empathy.” – Stanley Greenspan

I hope this was helpful. To read more about Conscious Parenting, please click here. 

Beth Rowles
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I'm Beth Rowles, Hi!

I help driven moms use the conflict in their marriage as a feedback loop to grow in self-awareness so they can create the marriage they, and their kids, deserve without leaving the one they're in or waiting for their husband to evolve.

I'm the author of The Authentic Wife: Uncaging Yourself Through Marriage and host of The Authentic Wife Show podcast & YouTube channel.


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