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Recovering from Boundary Breaks: What to Do When You Blow It

You’ve got to get on a call, and your kid is losing her mind.  She’s begging for a cookie even though she already had the one you promised. You’re firm about the fact that there will be no more cookies. You said, no more cookies. That was that. Until, it’s time to dial in and the only way to quiet her down so you can hear is to throw her a cookie.

It feels like a parenting fail and you wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow. But desperate times, right? We were inspired by our previous conversation about boundary f*ckups around sleep, so wanted to explore the topic further. Tia Slightham, parenting expert shared her wisdom on when it’s okay (and not okay) to relax a boundary and how boundaries can help you more fully enjoy your kids.

Have you ever wondered why kids are angels at school? It’s because there are black and white boundaries at school, but when they get home, they enter the grey zone. Tia Slightham, Parenting Expert

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Blow it? Return to the boundary baseline.

    We’re all going to be breaking some of the boundaries we set for our kids, especially now. If you know you’re going to have to break one, e.g. using a cookie to quiet them down, if possible, let them know in advance you’re making an exception and explain why. It could be because you have an important call or need to concentrate hard on something for work. As long as you’re upfront about the deviation, you’ve reinforced that there is a boundary and established that you’ll both be returning to it next time, you will be okay. If you’ve blown the boundary without an opportunity for advance warning, then as soon as possible share why you had to do something different and reinforce that you’re returning to the baseline boundary. Don’t over-explain, but be clear and then do as agreed. If you find yourself repeatedly breaking boundaries, it’s time to assess why.

  2. Blow it? Don’t beat yourself up.

    Parenting is not easy at the best of times. It’s a learned skill and we are all too hard on ourselves. If you give in to requests more readily than before, cut yourself some slack – these are unprecedented times! We all want to present a composed front for our kids, but remember that mistakes are okay – we want our kids to make mistakes, and to learn from them. We don’t want them to mess up on something and feel like they can’t fix it – we want them to try and try again. So, we need to model this. When you have a boundary screw up, don’t beat yourself up. Think about how you can set yourself up for more success next time and then get back on the horse! (see Bite 3). 

  3. You can rewrite them, but don’t abandon boundaries – they are gifts.

    Kids are born with 2 predetermined jobs – they are born to please us and push boundaries until boundaries are found. When we don’t have concrete, clear and consistent (3C’s) boundaries, kids are forced to work in overdrive until they find our limits. And, without knowing where the expectations lie, they can’t please us (the other predetermined job). So when they push for 5 more minutes of playing and we give in after you’ve already said it was time to clean up, it doesn’t make or break the day, but now they don’t know where the boundary is. It tells them to keep pushing for more, which makes for a confused kid and a frustrated parent.

    Being at home 24/7 requires defining a whole new set of expectations and boundaries – it’s worth doing. Over-communicate that things are changing. We don’t have to go all the way to a 24 hour schedule, but blocking out the day and sharing what is expected of our kid(s) during those blocks is the first step in getting everyone on the same page. It helps them feel empowered and independent (think filling power needs) so we won’t have to harp on them constantly. Bottom line: kids thrive on consistency and structure and they’re used to having that at school – that’s why parents and kids are struggling so much right now. Use charts (see Tip 1 below) and timers as tools to help create concrete, clear and consistent routines. 

Setting boundaries is a lot like sleep training. You can’t give in when sleep training – but once they’re sleeping well and it’s no longer an issue, you can go to a BBQ and stay out late every once in a while.


  1. After rolling your eyes at the daily schedules for kids on Instagram, accept that physical, visual charts show kids what’s coming next in their day, makes them feel capable and in charge. Not to mention, the chart becomes the boss, which makes it easier for parents to stick to 3 C’s boundaries. Make it simple with areas for flex if that’s the way you are comfortable operating. What’s critical is to take the time to really explain the chart to kids – slowly, one step at a time, checking in to ensure it’s fully understood. Demonstrate each piece of the schedule or routine through role play and practice it for fun. Maybe they pretend to put you to bed or you have a pretend meal. Teach, train, practice, and role model so it becomes engrained. Consider including your kids in the design to get them invested, if it’s age appropriate. Click here for 5 free chart downloads.

  2. When you’re in the heat of the moment, a helpful concept to remember is the hula hoop. Hula hooping stems from guilt (maybe we haven’t been present enough, we feel bad for them they can’t see their friends, etc.), and it’s what we do when we start to feed into our self doubts, relax boundaries and give in to requests for one more this, one more that, a little more time. The antithesis of 3C’s boundaries, hula hooping actually feeds power struggles. So when you find yourself going around and around with your kid, remember the hula hoop image and remind yourself that hula hooping doesn’t get you anywhere, but following through does.

  3. Across the board, there are four hotspots where parents and kids consistently get into power struggles: sleep, potty, homework and mealtime. We become vulnerable because we’re so invested in the outcomes. Kids figure this out because we tend to obsess about them. They think, “wow, they really want me to go to bed/potty/finish my homework/eat. I’m in control.” We   can relieve the pressure and encourage positive behaviour by using really clear boundaries in these areas. 

    For example, assuming you’ve established set meal and snack times, if your child wants to get down from the table, clearly state that he can be done with breakfast whenever he wants but he won’t eat again until 10am. It’s okay if he loses his mind when he’s denied a snack twenty minutes later, because you’ve held up your side by communicating a clear schedule (so long as you follow through with that 10am snack). Within a few days he will eat enough breakfast to make it to snack time because he will have found your boundary and know when to expect to eat next.

Our kids need a certain amount of power and attention daily. To give positive power, offer choice – do you really care if they have string cheese vs a Babybel? Or two more minutes instead of three at the park? Give them options that work for you and stick to the one they choose.


What does your work do for you that you’d miss if you didn’t have it?

Just last week I was telling my mom how busy I was, and I was saying maybe I should just bag it. But the truth is, I would be so lost without it. Through this COVID experience – seeing my clients through zoom is saving me. Happy kids is my passion. Watching my clients tell me how what they’ve learned is making changes for them is so amazing. It fills my buckets.

What is your most medal-worthy moment?

Not a specific moment, but my husband works 6-7 days a week and for years he only saw the boys for half an hour each morning. As he’d leave for work each morning, they’d say “see you in the morning daddy.” I parented alone much of the time but realized with the right parenting skills I could do it in a positive way and so can you.”

There’s a lot of mom-judging. What’s one thing that might be controversial that you’re unapologetic about?

The fact that my boys as infants went to bed at 4:30pm. They’d sleep straight through until 6:30am. I can’t tell you how much grief I got from it. To this day, my family members still like to give me a hard time. My boys who are now 9 and 11, still go to bed early, and I love it because every night my husband and I have dinner together, which keeps our relationship strong. I let everyone else  give me shit, because my schedule and my kids bedtime works for me. Exhaustion is the recipe for disaster in parenting.

Biggest piece of advice or wisdom for working moms?

Not feeling guilty for working. I know sometimes as working moms we feel we are taking time away from our kids. But you can set yourself up to spend that quality time. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. It’s important for my kids to see me doing what makes me happy. Working for a living is hard and tiring and there’s so much to do, but it’s life and these are  important lessons for kids to see.

What do you hope your kids will say about you when they’re adults?

I hope they continue to say I’m the best mommy ever. I hope they raise their kids one day by saying “I learned this from my mom.” I aspire for them to have confidence, security and kindness as well as a bonded relationship with their kids which I hope is something they learned from me. 


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