How to Build Stronger Relationships with Boundaries

Creating strong bonds with our children through limits

By Focus on the Family Singapore | 21 March, 2018

The V of Love by psychologist Dr Sylvia Rimm is a basic principle for Parent-Coaches, and a concept that we can come back to again and again in our parenting journey.

Organisation is a basic life skill that every child needs to learn to do well in life. The V of Love helps children to cope with age-appropriate responsibilities and to feel “in control” by organising themselves. It allows children to experiment with choices while keeping them safe within our set limits. As they demonstrate their ability to manage greater freedom, we gradually move those limits out so they have more choices.

In summary, the V of Love is a useful tool to find the balance between parental limits and a child’s growing need for independence.

Narrow limits -> Little freedom, few choices, few responsibilities and related consequences

With growing maturity,
Wider limits -> Greater freedom, more choices, more responsibilities and related consequences

  • Parents set and hold limits. Ultimately our limits are for our children’s safety and welfare. When exploring new responsibilities, choices, limits or rules, always think about whether it is age-appropriate. The pace at which the V widens out is totally up to our discretion as parents, based on our assessment of our children’s maturity and the risks we’re willing to take or able to manage.
  • Children make age-appropriate independent choices within those limits. The sides of the V represent firm limits or boundaries and rules within which the child may make decisions but also live with the consequences.

As our children grow and mature — becoming more capable and showing greater responsibility — the V widens to allow for more freedom and choices, coupled with more responsibilities. Choices could be anything like preference of clothes, how to spend pocket money, going out with friends, curfews, hairstyles, choice of sports, crossing the road or even travelling unassisted.

At ages 7-9, children need to have more choices than when they were 2 or 4 years old. However, they need a lot of supervision and protection, so the amount of freedom and choices that they have would be more limited than when they grow to become 12 or 15 years old. Even then, teens need space but still need guidance.

The Parent-Coach is like a good boss who provides freedom with oversight!

It is natural and healthy that our children desire greater independence as they grow up. Thus, the same rules we had may no longer apply. The greater the scope we give them for independent choices and action, the more cooperative and responsible they are likely to be. Our job as Parent-Coaches is to make changes over time, while developing our children’s ability to think through decisions.

If you don't think your 4-year-old is ready to choose what to watch on TV but your 6-year-old is, the rules for each are slightly different. Learn to respond to cries of “not fair” by explaining that they enjoy the privileges that come with growing up ("when you are 6, you can”). This cuts down on sibling rivalry too.

Some risk-taking is necessary for children to learn how to handle life. We have to make compromises between their safety and their search for independence. When they are able to overcome the challenge presented to them, they gain confidence that they can manage.


Sadly, some parents may invert the V and treat their preschoolers like mini-adults from the start with all the privileges of adulthood. The parents are not in control; the child is – controlling through temper tantrums and other poor behaviour. Too much power at a young age leads to unhappy, out-of-control children who find it hard to respond to any limits imposed on them. Misbehaviour may then force parents to withdraw freedoms they once had, leading to anger and rebellion.

A better way is to slowly and considerately widen the V as the child grows, ensuring that the child learns to handle freedom and choice in a responsible manner. Ultimately, our aim is not to get our children to do what we want them to do, but to give them the skills and training so that they will choose to do the right things even when we are not there.


Some children mature faster and display responsibility earlier than others. Never compare because what works for one child may not work for another child, even if they are of the same age. Each child has a unique personality and temperament, and matures differently; children mature at different rates. Assess and support their stage of growth while still balancing safe limits for them.

At the same time, every parent and family has their own set of values and expectations; different families have different ideals, and each child is raised in that unique home environment. What’s important is to identify our values and expectations, and the limits that our child needs to abide by.

Remember that we may change our rules and limits, but not standards such as honesty, respect and kindness.

© 2018 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


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