Creating Boundaries and Expectations

Life Long Relationships Start Early On

Creating Boundaries and Expectations

Yummy Mummy Lesley asks:

  How do I keep the peace between my daughter and I as she grows older? She is only approaching 3 and she is quite defiant. I am afraid of when she hits puberty as I had her late in life and will probably approach menopause as she hits puberty.

Social Worker Gary Direnfeld answers:

   Dear Leslie,

Good for you for looking ahead and trying to set a good relationship from early on.

It is common for three-year-olds to act defiant. They are now aware of a world beyond their reach and strive to get into everything and often, their wants outstrip their linguistic ability to express their desires. At the same time, they are in the toilet training process and are learning to exercise control of their bodies. And if that were not enough, they are stretching their little legs to visit the boundaries of your tolerances.

The challenge for the parent at this stage of life is to provide a safe and basic environment for fun and exploration and when the child seeks to move beyond, the parent can bring him or her back to the safe and approved space. Naturally your child will seek to test your limits and expectations in the process. You see, they are not only experimenting with their physical environment, but social as well.

Believe it or not, it is OK if you actually frustrate your child in the process of setting limits and expectations. In fact, it is a necessary component for healthy child development to frustrate your child. Frustration teaches the child about limits and that the world doesn't actually revolve solely around them. However, parents who worry about their relationship with the child too much are likely to give in far more that what is good for the child and hence the child acts as if he or she has greater control of their circumstances than the parents! These children eventually grow up to be out of control with terrible parental relationships.

So, for your three-year-old who is defiant, view much of it as normal, yet not acceptable. Redirect her behaviour to acceptable activities and limit her choices to what you deem appropriate. If she cries and carries on, she is only expressing frustration, having been thwarted in her desires. Don't back down from maintaining your reasonable expectations despite her carrying on. At any other time when she is behaviour reasonably, feel free to hug her up and lavish her with kisses.

Given you teach your daughter to accept limits, expectations and frustration in the context of love and support at this age, you increase the likelihood of the kind of mother-daughter relationship you dream of for later on.



At 55 years of age, Gary Direnfeld is a social worker with more than 29 years of experience working with parents, teens and young children. With a private practice located in Dundas, Ontario, he provides counselling, mediation and assessment services on most matters of family life.

Courts in Ontario consider Gary an expert on social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations, custody and access recommendations, and an expert at critiquing the assessments of other assessors. He has a weekly parenting column in his city's daily newspaper and has hosted 65 episodes of a reality television show working with newlywed couples.