Boundaries with Kids :: A Brief Book Review

Boundaries with Kids

Very few rules with very great follow-through.

That was my parenting motto before reading Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I felt like a pretty good parent with the exception of the occasional hormonal outburst when I felt like my brain and my mouth weren’t connecting very well.

I wasn’t sure how much I was really going to learn about parenting from this book, but I was given a copy and encouraged to read it. So, I did even though I usually avoid all parenting books.


Well, it definitely isn’t because I came naturally to motherhood or boundaries.  And I’m sure pride does play a major part in my previous avoidance of all books in the “parenting” category, but the bottom line for my aversion was fear. Fear of knowing more than I could do.

For me, consistency is huge. Follow-through is one of the foundational building blocks for trust, and I want my children to trust me almost more than I want them to love me (or maybe real trust is real love).

Selfishly then, I try to do my best on my own with what I already know so that I’m not over burdened by all the wonderful opinions and advice contained in all the popular parenting manuals. Because if I know better but can’t perform better then I’ll be too discouraged to even try.

Not to mention the confusion of conflicting messages contained within the top 5 books. Each book forms an “exclusive club” – spankers, praisers, behavior modifiers, etc. I didn’t want to feel conflicted by the pressure to be a purist in any single method.

But Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend was a lot more than just a parenting method book. This resource contains a wealth of information on how to define healthy boundaries, how to unpack the principles of healthy boundaries, and how to execute the principles.

Often when we are speaking on the topic of kids and boundaries, a mom will ask for help with a problem: “I set the boundaries for behavior for my child. But she keeps crossing them. What do I do?” The answer is, “That’s what is supposed to happen. You are the parent. You have a job. You job is to set the limits and enforce the consequences in love. She is the child. She also has a job. Her job is to test the limits many times with her active aggression and thereby learn about reality, relationship, and responsibility. It’s the divinely ordered training system.”

This quote contains the main concept of the book. The authors did a thorough job of answering my top questions: Why do we need boundaries? How are boundaries different than “rules?” What does it look like to set and maintain boundaries? And will there be growth and fruit in the parent-child relationship because of boundaries?

I discovered that I over empathize with my children’s emotions. The scenario of a crying three-year old when mommy leaves the house really hit home with me, and I had to take a hard look at some of the ways I project my feelings (adult size) onto my child. Doing this isn’t fair to the child and it isn’t helpful for building reliable (and loving) limits.

Speaking of “loving limits” – this reminds me so much of the children’s program in BSF. If you want to find a Bible study that has child care, check out Bible Study Fellowship. Their children’s leaders follow such beautiful guidelines for working with and training children that I often felt like this book and their manual could be complimentary. (BSF children’s leaders are some of my very favorite people!)

The other major wake up call for me was in identifying that my children are often passive boundary crossers. Oh my, isn’t it so sneaky how our bent towards self and sin can be masked by being compliant? This section is contained later in the book and up until this point I was reading along with a (slight) chip on my shoulder, thinking we were doing pretty good. I don’t have the kid that throws a WWIII level tantrum in the grocery store – so I’m good!  

Ugh. Nope.

I now think that how my children behave (and how I’ve trained them to behave) is harder to correct than a child who needs to be redirected in their active boundary crossing.


While this has created more work for me and has opened my eyes to see the change that needs to happen, it has birthed enough hope and desire for healthy relationships that I feel motivated to work on establishing healthy boundaries. Besides, this is the year of GROW, right? It all fits.

There were a few things that I didn’t love about the book though, and it took a lot of concerted effort to finish this book. (I was often tempted to put it down in favor of lighter, more entertaining reading.) But I want to FINISH what I start this year. I want to follow through on even the little things that I start. This is part of how I measure growth in my own life.

Here are the ways I feel like the book fell short of being the “perfect” parenting book:

  • There aren’t enough stories. The stories that are included mainly focus on working out boundaries and consequences with teenage kids. Some of the most powerful applications of consequences were dependent on the child having to stay home alone while the rest of the family enjoyed an outing.
  • The conversations included from their own younger children didn’t feel organic. I felt like I was reading “staged” material.
  • When scripture was included, it was used to support their principle without much context or explanation of the verses. I felt like they could have developed the connection using scripture as their starting point.
  • I was hoping for more practical ideas for consequences. I’m not creative enough to figure out a consequence that will really teach. A “time out” sometimes is exactly what my 9 year old introvert wants! Win win for her, she disobeyed and got alone time too! I was looking for ideas on how to correct without being too complacent or too strict.

I do recommend this book, especially for anyone struggling with discerning where their identity stops and where their child’s starts. It’s all too easy to get emotionally tangled up in doing our very best for our kids. But like it was pointed out in the book, my parenting is temporary. The goal is to raise an adult with healthy boundaries.

Check out Boundaries with Kids. And check out what I’m reading this year!


2015: Record to Remember


Best thing that happened to me in 2015: As a family – our new home, as a wife – our anniversary trip, as a woman – this blog!

Most challenging thing: Settling into our new home (moved in July, and there are still boxes I need to go through in the garage.)

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An unexpected joy: Positive pregnancy test in November and finding the best doughnuts in town!

An unexpected obstacle: the troubles with our van (still ongoing) that seemed to be resolved (by a miracle) and then got way worse (way, way worse). And the combination of slow satellite internet and our Mac Mini. (If you’re moving out of town, let me tell you which satellite internet company not to use.)

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2015 in 3 words: Move, Dates, Grace

Best read books: Top 5: Teaching from Rest, Secrets of a Charmed Life, Dear Mr. Knightly, Simply Tuesday, The Bible (always!)

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Most valuable relationships: My husband (communication has grown), JoeAnna (more relaxed bond), Graham (helping him grow in independence), Emmett (teaching him loving limits), my parents (since living with them I feel so close to them), my pastor and his wife (they are so caring), grandma Joe (our connection is so strong), Casie (everyone needs a friend with whom a smile says 1,000 words, and she introduced me to the Bullet Journal – so there’s that).

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Biggest personal change: regarding myself as a career woman, growing in confidence, and being more consistent in all areas of life because of this blog.

Emotional growth: farther along in the process of correcting my anxious tendencies and stronger in my ability to communicate with others

Spiritual growth: trusting God’s plan for Bible study and fellowship by stepping away from my beloved BSF for a season to focus more on building intentional relationships with the women of my church family

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Most enjoyable part of work: as a homemaker – cooking, as a mother/educator – read aloud time, as a writer/blogger/speaker – connecting with other women in the same field and sharing what I’ve learned with others

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Most challenging part of work: (same order as above) meal planning, wrangling our day so that we get our work done everyday, editing and uploading pictures

Biggest time waster: Instagram

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Best use of time: writing in our Bullet Journals the night before per the Make Over Your Mornings evening routine homework

Biggest thing learned: I want to work. I like it, and I can be good at it when I take myself seriously.

2015 statement: 2015 was filled with growth and change. I was stretched to learn new things, to work harder than ever before, and to endure with grace. This year will be remembered as the year we moved into our home, conceived our fourth child, and brought home a puppy.

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Most popular post from 2015: How I set up my Bullet Journal

Most beneficial post from 2015: Make Over Your Mornings: The #5Things I Needed Most

Most controversial post from 2015: Maybe You Are Cut Out for It

Most with the most positive feedback in 2015: The day I realized that this is my life.

So there you have it. I can officially say goodbye to 2015 and fully invest myself into the development of 2016. What’s your favorite way to plan for a whole new year? I’d love to know. I think I’m going to take this year one month at a time, setting goals for each month as they present themselves. Instead of writing a master list of 20 things to tackle in 2016. For me, this will be an active effort in being gracious and challenging with myself – I am pregnant after all, and who knows how the next 6 months will go. (Remember my last pregnancy? I sure learned a lot through the struggles! Read a little bit about it here.)

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Curricula: What We Use, Part 2: 1st & 2nd Grades

I knew I needed to switch things up for my daughter from Sonlight’s PreK to something else when half way through our year she started writing “No mommy” all over her language arts worksheets. (Notice the common thread from Part 1. Worksheets are not her favorite.)

Then My Father’s World was “boring,” but there was a bigger problem that year which caused the negative feelings from my daughter.

Up until this point, I was trying to do all our learning time together. Both kids at the table, all the resources handed out at the same time, and I tried to keep things relatively at the same pace. I was completely unfamiliar with learning styles or teaching styles.

And my son’s learning style was driving my daughter capital-C: Crazy.

She couldn’t stand it that he would interrupt the best part of a book just to ask a question about how that would work, or why it would be that way and not another way.

She gave him I don’t like you eyes whenever he would blurt the answer out loud. She knew the difference when I asked a question that I clearly wanted them to raise their hands for. (See the Traditional Model in action here? Yeah. I didn’t know better.)

Then when she saw that he was clearly excelling at all things “school,” it was as if she had had enough of being taught in a way that clearly was missing the mark and thought I don’t like school.

So the biggest change we made before starting the next learning year was to separate some of the subjects to give them individual time with me. Subjects that were separate were: Bible, math, writing, spelling, calendar time, and reading. Subjects that we kept together were: Science, read alouds, and history. By having the kids separated, I could focus on presenting the materials in a way that supported their learning style.

This was also the year that we lived with my parents. We faced atypical homeschooling challenges. I wanted to keep my focus on creating routines that were simple and not too demanding as far as projects went. We did a lot of reading together.

What we used for 1st and 2nd grades:


  • All the kids attended Bible Study Fellowship and the older two also attended AWANA. We worked on their lessons and memorization work during the week. This is my favorite Bible for kids to read on their own: Curricula What We Use Part 2 1


      • Diana Waring Presents “A History Revealed” Ancient Civilizations Elementary Activity Book with CDsCurricula 1st 2nd History
            • The CDs are a mixture of Waring teaching chronologically through the sections of the workbook but also lots of interesting facts or probing questions about the way the secular worldview understands a certain portion of history. These CDs are intended to supplement the textbook which is written for older elementary, so even though we listened to them while building Legos – I had to interpret or repeat a lot of the information to my kids at ages 7 and 5. It wasn’t intended for their ages, but it wasn’t bad for them either.
            • This package for younger elementary does not include the history text that goes along with the CDs for older kids, rather it includes a list of recommended books for each section. We really enjoyed:


      • Dr. Wile’s Berean Builders Science: In the Ancient World – This is over my kids’ heads because it is written for 5th/6th grades, but I love it and it’s worth keeping around for later elementary years. Plus I can summarize and teach the concept without reading word-for-word.
        • We didn’t make it through the whole year with me summarizing each lesson. It was the hardest topic to keep my daughter’s attention, and with our other homeschooling challenges – by November I was completely ignoring the Science drawer in our subject cart. By doing this, I realized by January or February that my son was deeply interested in science and missing it greatly.
        • We also invested in Jonathan Parks Volumes 1-2: these are great audio dramas for the whole family.  Some of the action can be intense. The episodes are focused on creation science and the evidence that proves the young earth position and the Biblical account of the flood.
        • For my son, I continued to take the time to simply answer his questions: How does electricity work? What is lightning? And lots of listening to his connections between cause and effect. This year revealed a heavy interest in science. He really enjoyed watching the Science Channel at my parents’ house too – “How Things are Made” and “Outrageous Science” were his favorites (with adult supervision though – episodes are rated differently based on content of individual shows.) Curricula 1st 2nd Science


      • Horizon’s Math
        • We started with Horizon’s with our Sonlight PreK package. At first I chose Singapore Math, but it was way too colorful. The pages were in full color, no white space. We were able to return that and switch to Horizon’s for level K. We used the teacher’s manual for a quarter of the way through and then stopped. The rest of the book was basically practice. For 1st grade, I did not buy the teacher’s manual and it’s been fine.
      • Life of Fred for 1st grade – 3 books – It recommends that the student “take out a sheet of paper for practice” at the end of each chapter, and sometimes my kids would do this – but since we were already doing Horizons for practice I did not require them to. Reading the Life of Fred was more for the enjoyment of the story and exercising our brains to think about how things work mathematically in everyday life. Both kids loved Life of Fred.

Language Arts

      • Institute for Excellence in Writing: Primary – Reading and Writing
        • The letter stories and games made this curriculum worth the expense. Each letter has a “story” and an image that resembles it. Like “c” is a cookie with a bite taken out of it. In the games, the kids learned about “helpers” – 2 letter combinations that make certain sounds. For instance, “ee” is called “squeely e’s” because when 2 of them get together they are so excited that they say their name – like in the word green.
        • This has taken us 2 years to go through – there is so much here and so many resources that the slow pace has allowed for much deeper appreciation. DVD/CD-ROMs are included with the package so we print the resources. The games, however, come in a spiral bound book to cut and assemble. There are readers, lesson sheets, poetry pages, craft pages, etc. on the CD-ROM for printing. The kids are in the “All About Spelling” part of the program (included with the package) right now and close to being finished – then it’s on to the 3rd student book. Curricula 1st 2nd LA


      • We also do The Confessions of a Homeschooler’s Learning Notebook for our “caledar time.” The kids loved this, especially when we celebrated their 100th day of school with 100 tokens at Chuck E Cheese. Curricula 1st 2nd Calendar

I buy Dollar store reward charts and they earn 3-6 checks per day. There are 25 boxes per sheet so they earn rewards every 10 days or so. Rewards like time on the computer or a Dollar Store toy are huge motivators to be disciplined daily.

The kids have kitchen timers (isn’t that one super cute?) that they set for 20 minutes to read after they’ve finished their work which earns them another check mark on their reward charts.

And one more tip – for me, going to the Homeschool convention is always way more helpful than any “curriculum” has been. I’ve learned more about how to parent and train them through the teaching and sessions there that I can apply to any “subject” – that has been way more valuable than trying to force a boxed program to work.

I have had to work through major insecurities in order to do this thing called “homeschool” and the homeschool convention has been a major part of the process of change for me.

This past convention, I learned most from Steve Lambert (mentioned in this post – your child’s fav teacher, this one – brains & books, and this one too 10 tips) but I think this quote from him struck a cord within me that confirmed that God is using this process to mature me into the woman He wants me to be. Yes, it is for the good and growth of my children, but it is also for the good and growth of me. Nothing is wasted – especially the hard things.

God invited us to work on an area of ourselves; we refused. God invited us into marriage to deal with it; we refused. God invited us into parenthood to deal with it; we refused. So God invited us to home school – and this is where we deal with it. – Steve Lambert

I hope this helps and doesn’t overwhelm. If it does, just read it again in chunks. Don’t try to take it all in at once. Give yourself time to process and pray. And ask any questions you’d like. I’m not shy.

Further Reading:

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How I get out the house on time (without yelling).

How I get out of the house on time without yelling

I have two basic goals when it comes to getting out of the house with kids in tow:

  1. Arrive to the appointment on time
  2. Be kind

Often times, I have compromised #2 in order to accomplish #1. But when I yell at my kids to speed them up, something happens every time: they slow down even more.

I’ve learned over the years of parenting that it’s just better for my constitution to expect complications and give everything double the amount of time it should take. After all these little people are little. They simply cannot operate at an adult speed and they certainly can’t plan ahead. Their disposition to be magnetized by distraction is built into the fiber of their being. This is what makes them curious and playful. It’s what brings them joy and laughter.

Their slowness is a goodness.

So I set out to make peace with them and with being on time. And these steps have helped me and brought more joy to our mornings than I ever thought possible.

  1. Plan ahead. I know what appointments I have for the next day. Even when my calendar is completely open: I make it a point to know what time I have and own that time.
  2. Budget time. I start by figuring out how I spend an hour. Then I timed myself doing my daily tasks to see how long it actually takes to empty the dishwasher, etc. For me, it takes 7 minutes to apply my make-up from start to finish. This little detail helps me know how to order the steps in my morning to accomplish multiple things simultaneously.
  3. Direct kids with one command at a time. I can’t give two-part instructions. This is huge; it’s the most important step to this process. For example, I do not say “bring your books upstairs, put them back on the shelf, go in your room and get changed, and then come in the bathroom to brush your teeth and wash your face.” Instead I:
    • Start with “bring your books upstairs now, please. You have 3 minutes.”
    • Keep them accountable for that one thing. Correcting and guiding them to obey one simple task at a time. This needs to be done with great patience for the slow and distracted kids.
  4. Set a timer for everything. Every single task. Don’t skip this step. I need the beep, they need the beep. After hearing the beep for another 2 minute task, I start to feel the passing of 2 minutes without the beep. This is true for them too. I used to get lost in my own routine- I’d forget how long I had been staring into my closet for what to wear. Now I give myself 2 minutes and if it isn’t picked by then I have to move on and come back. timer
  5. Give them a clear plan for when we need to arrive. 
    • This is an opportunity to teach them to tell time. We started them young by using a digital clock and only highlighting the hour.
    • Tell them how long it will take to travel to our destination.
    • Have a countdown to when we need to leave to arrive on time with the amount of time necessary in between.
  6. Don’t yell. Sounds easier said than done, I know. But I knew I needed to change this habit first, and train them second. Their behavior will follow.
    • Some kids get slower when yelled at because of their fight or flight instinct. They can’t learn or listen when their brain has shut down because of fear.
    • I’ve mentally prepared to give myself a “time out” when frustrated and tempted to yell. Sometimes my time out is closing my eyes, and I don’t speak until I can do so calmly.
  7. I’m not aiming for perfection. I don’t want to be rigid and uptight. My goal is excellence so I need to take my circumstances into context.
  8. Don’t check my phone. Rarely have I actually missed a texted that would have changed my plans if I had read it before leaving the house. When my phone is on silent and I don’t pick it up while getting ready I save myself from becoming disoriented.

I’ve learned that living with little people is for them but not about them. This process of discipline and growth has been about changing my habits. Whether I will work hard and own my goals or not. No one will help me get out of the house on time for me. It isn’t convenient. I feel like everyday I am tested too much, but we have had such consistent success when I’ve followed these steps and rested in knowing I’ve done my best.

When we arrive smiling, I look at their faces and all the work has been worth it.

For more help in managing your time well, check out this course called “Make Over Your Mornings” by Crystal Paine. Her course can help you live with more peace and purpose.

For more encouragement from The Home Learner, click here.