Boundaries, Family Rules, & Strong-Willed Children… Oh My!

Boundaries, Family Rules, & Strong-Willed Children… Oh My!

Annoyed, angry, surrounded by chaos?

Rachel Norman of A Mother Far from Home and I recorded an in-depth call on boundaries while she was training to become an Authorized Language of Listening® Coach. We cover it all in the video in Rachel’s post, reprinted here from her blog with permission.


Recently we moved into a new house (to us).

About a week or two into living there I found myself confused.

I seemed more angry than normal. The kids seemed more “naughty” than normal. Everything seemed more chaotic. It only took another minute of rumination to realize that while our location had changed… our rules had not. 

  • I had not established new rules, yet I expected the kids to intuitively know them.
  • I had not anticipated I’d be bothered by things in this house that I wasn’t bothered by in the other house. (Hence, new frustrations)
  • The kids were exploring and making themselves at home, and it was creating a mess I hadn’t yet created systems to clean up.

It led me on a rabbit trail about family rules. 

I spoke about this with Sandy from Language of Listening® as I was trying to work out why I had become a Godzilla Mom all of a sudden. I realized it boiled down to one thing I needed to explore more.


I needed this badly, and if you do too, let’s dive in!

A Big Discussion On Family Rules

Note: To discuss this topic in-depth with someone far more experienced than myself, I did a Zoom call with Sandy from Language of Listening®. Unfortunately, the video quality kept freezing because #iliveinthesticks but I uploaded it as is because IT IS GOLDEN. I do not say that lightly.

The Difference Between Boundaries & Family Rules

Boundary is pretty much a buzzword these days.

For the purposes of this conversation, a boundary is something that already is inside of you based on your preferences – what you like or don’t like. You do not “come up with” a boundary. You either already feel it inside or you don’t. Or it’s a physical one, like the budget or the confines of the home. You can’t really make this stuff up and, in any moment, you can’t really change it.


Rules, for the purposes of this conversation, are what you put in place to put your boundaries into action. 

So this is a lot to process, I know. Let’s break it down into how this works.

Examples of Boundaries (your own) as they relate to parenting and family life:

  • Boundary: You cannot cope with less than 8 hours of sleep.
  • Rule: You create a family bedtime routine that allows you to have 8 hours of sleep (not including newborn months, duh)


  • Boundary: You don’t like crumbs on the counter and cannot cook or function in a dirty kitchen. (58:33 in the video gives this example)
  • Rule: Everyone who prepares food on the countertops must wipe them clean afterward.

One more.

  • Boundary: Your budget does not allow you to buy duplicate toys for each sibling so sharing must happen.
  • Rule: Each child can take a long turn with their desired toy, but must choose an end time and share at that point.

The key here is to not try and talk yourself out of your boundaries. This is how you end up feeling bitter, walked on, and resentful. 

ReadA No Drama Approach To Your Child’s Behavior Problems

Here’s Why You’re Not Always “Consistent” With Family Rules

So now that we’ve talked about boundaries and rules… I want to help you heave a huge sigh of relief.

We all know that “consistency consistency consistency” is key with parenting, right? And because of this we all feel quite guilty if we are not being consistent. We think we are ruining our kids and they’ll never be responsible and we may as well pack it in.

But I want to let you in on a little secret: you are probably very consistent with your boundaries… just not with your rules.

So what does this mean? Keep the boundary, and change the rule.

Let’s give an example.

(18:56 gives my example below about being CONSISTENT with the boundary but having a rule that didn’t make sense for us)

I made a rule for our new house: absolutely no eating in the living room.


did not consistently enforce this. The kids realized I did not consistently enforce it so they took it as a door, not a wall. Upon further reflection I understood what was going on.


My boundary was NOT that I didn’t want any eating or drinking on the couches, but that I didn’t want the newly upholstered couches stained. This explains why I didn’t mind water bottles or cheerios or veggie sticks on the couches but I DID mind juice or strawberries.


I was keeping my actual boundary (no foods that would stain), but not the rule (no food at all).


I simply do not wish to enforce a total ban on food because I don’t care about that. I just care my couches are in good condition.


My solution? I told my kids my actual boundary. Now, if they are in doubt, they will ask me if a certain snack is okay. They are far more aware now of what I am okay with and not okay with and keep my boundary easily.

Am I making sense?

If you find yourself being inconsistent with some of your family rules, it’s time to dig deep because this is an area you’ll want to think on. (56:10 of the video)

Finding Your ACTUAL Boundary

So then one of the big keys here is to actually find your boundaries. And your spouse may also want to do the same. Likely if your spouse is often bothered by your children’s behavior it’s because they are crossing one of his or her unspoken boundaries.

(16:20 in the video talks about what permissive parenting is — changing your boundaries)

How to find your boundaries:

  • Ask yourself this… where am I not consistently keeping rules in our home?
  • Notice when you start to feel bitter and resentful… ask yourself WHY you are feeling that way. This will reveal a lot.
  • What situations cause you to yell? Why?
  • Think on the things that seem to matter most to you in parenting, dig a little deeper.

When you notice that a rule isn’t really being enforced in your home, instead of heaping on the guilt and condemnation… just ask yourself… could it be that this isn’t your actual boundary?

ReadBoundary Trouble: What To Do

What Is A “Can Do”?

In the video above Sandy mentions Can Dos a few times. A Can Do is an alternative to the behavior your child is currently doing that is okay with you.

For example.

My child is screaming and running around inside the house.

I say, “Looks like you want to scream. You can scream outside.”

It is simply one way that the child can do something they want within your own boundaries and rules.

(13:32 on the above video goes into this further)

Read Sandy’s Online Book Here FreeSay What You See® Handbook

family rules


Strong-Willed Or Self-Directed:

(01:20 in the video above)

This is always a hot button for moms.

Is my child strong-willed or have I just let them have too much power?

AnswerIt depends. 

A self-directed child is one who is used to deciding what they want to do on their own. Then, when mom wants to hold one of her boundaries or enforce a family rule, that child isn’t into it. Some children are born with more forceful driven personalities, but some simply have learned to adapt in a family without clear-cut rules, and they’ve made their own.

The way toward having children who respect your boundaries is the same, though it might be a more uphill climb.

  • Find your own boundaries
  • Create clear rules relating to those boundaries if they aren’t one in the same (i.e. Sandy’s crumb example in 58:33 of the video)
  • Allow your child freedom within the boundary or rule but expect compliance with the boundaries and rules
  • Set your child up for success by intervening early, not putting them in situations where they act out, and connecting regularly with your child

ReadRemoving Judgment From Behavior (How To) 

For more clarity, read: Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child

Kids Get Rules… They CRAVE Them!

(1:01:24 in the video shares an example of this)

Also, if you’re worried kids don’t like rules… it’s just the opposite.

When a child likes something, they want to do it all the time. 

Child’s Rule: I always go first!

When they don’t like something, they never want to do it. 

Child’s Rule: I never eat green things!

This is the heart of rules. 

Even without help, they’ll make their own preferences into rules and they’ll tell them to you!  Don’t be shy of having rules, but don’t have unnecessary rules or ones you don’t actually care about. Have rules that help you keep your boundaries and then you will consistently enforce them!

Thank you, Sandy!

Sandy Blackard

Major thanks to Sandy from Language of Listening® for this interview. She has coached many women throughout the years including someone you’ll likely recognize like Rachel Macy Stafford of Hands Free Mama. I’ve been blessed to be learning from her the past few months and hope to keep sharing all that I’m learning with you!


Rachel Norman, Parent Coach


Authorized Language of Listening® Coach, Rachel Norman, is mom of five and the author of A Mother Far from Home blog where she writes on developing mindsets, routines, and habits that take the chaos out of parenting.


Connect with Rachel on her websiteInstagramFacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.


1 Comment

  1. Katie LeBlanc |

    This makes so much sense! Thank you for breaking this down. It helps me loose the anxiety I have felt.

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