How to Set Up Boundaries with Your Adult Children


Good parents establish healthy boundaries for their kids and then hold them accountable.

The goal is take the monkey of responsibility off your back and put it on theirs. This goes right along with the saying, “They will never know how far the town is if you carry them on your back.” One mom said to me, “I wish my 22 year old would schedule her own dentist appointments.” I smiled because the mom didn’t get the irony in her statement.

4 Helpful Phrases to Remember When Setting Boundaries

  1. “You earned it.” In other words, “You earned your negative outcome and consequences.” This is the principle that you reap what you sow. This is often used with alcohol and drug abusers. But, it also works well when setting and enforcing healthy boundaries. When adult children make poor choices, we can say they earned their consequences. This principle is an essential life lesson for adolescents and young adults.
  2. “You can choose the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret.” Everyone knows there is pain in life. We either chose the pain of self-discipline or the pain of living with regrets. Enabling takes away the opportunity for our adult children to grow in self-discipline.
  3. “You can’t want it more than they want it.” If your kids don’t want to make good choices, no amount of wanting them to will change things. Even when our adult children make poor decisions, we must let them clean up their own messes. There are consequences for our choices, both good and bad. Until your kids decide they want good consequences, you can’t want them into good choices.
  4. “When the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of changing, they will change.” One parent said to me, “I knew my daughter was making some poor choices. I also knew that when the pain threshold of her decisions got to a breaking point, she had the skills to make better decisions.” It seems like most of life’s lessons come through the school of hard knocks. Sometimes adult kids learn best through the pain of poor choices.

Negotiating boundaries can be tough, but the saying is true, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Boundaries give your adult children the opportunity to thrive by providing a structure for healthy independence.

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Jim Burns is the President of HomeWord and the Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 30 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books include: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, and Closer. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; two sons-in-law, Steve and Matt; and two grandchildren, James and Charlotte.