Psychology for Living

Gwen Randall-Young
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Appropriate Boundaries With Our Children

"The worst problems for children stem from parental conflict, before, during, and after divorce or within marriage." ~ Stephanie Coontz

Most parents recognize the importance of having clear boundaries with their children. While they can have fun with them and relate well, they must remain the parent, and not a friend. Slipping into a friend role may feel good for the parent, but it changes the dynamic. Children can have lots of friends, but only one or two parents. We need to preserve that relationship for their sakes.

Sometimes parents will depend on their children to fulfill their emotional needs. This is very unhealthy, and puts too much of a burden on children. Giving them a hard time about going out with friends because the parent is lonely is unfair.

Complaining to a child about one's partner is emotionally damaging. Giving details about a partner's transgressions or infidelities can scar a child for life. Children love their parents and putting one of them in a bad light causes tension and conflict within the child. Trying to win a child over to your side and turn him or her against the other parent only serves an immature part of oneself, and does nothing at all for the child.

Sometimes parents will say, "Well I think my child should know what her mother/father is really like." How can it possibly help a child to know the mother/father is a "bad" person? Even in challenging times parents need to keep adult issues between themselves, and to continue trying to be good parents.

Children will likely not tell a parent their negative talk about the other parent is distressing. They want to please, and certainly do not want to make the parent even more upset.

They will, however, remember those feeling well into adulthood and may carry resentments because by then they will be old enough to know how inappropriate that behaviour really was. If you take the high road now, that is where you will be perceived to be years from now.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or CDs, visit

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Recent comments

  • mona
    March 09, 2010 - 09:30

    i really liked the informationa and truly believe that parents conficts should not be discussed with children. it will ruin their future marital affairs.
    i will just add something in it that parents all attitudes and behavior is clear to children and they affect on them badly. so if parents have unhealthy relationship, then they must avoid having more children or take care of childrens well being by sending them apart :may it be good hostel or any good place to live.
    many psychological problems could increase among children if parents are not attentive to their childrens needs and busy in their own affairs to the crazy limits.