This topic is rather ironic at the moment as I set aside this Sunday morning for the purpose of establishing this blog. I decided to get up at 6 A.M. so that I would have a few hours to myself before all of the family got up. Now two hours into it, I have yet to accomplish anything because the dogs and cats have been fighting and woke up my daughter who wants to know everything that I’m doing. LOL… sound familiar to any of you?
Luckily the house does have some boundaries in place and things are starting to settle down for a few minutes. What are boundaries and how do they help? I like the definition given by www.therapistaid.com that describes boundaries as the limits that you set on activities or relationships. They help define what is acceptable or unacceptable in a relationship.
I’m assuming if you are crawling the internet about boundaries you have a strong willed child at home. So, how exactly do we set up these boundaries? There is no step-by-step process as the true spirit of the issue is in defining the behavior, expectations and consequences. For those of you that love lists:
- Define the problem/topic.
- Define your expectations.
- Define consequences.
- Ask your child to repeat the problem/topic, expectations and consequences to make sure they understand and have an opportunity to ask questions.
This can be a challenge at first as it is with any change, but once it becomes consistent and routine you will be amazed at what your children will adjust to. There are very firm boundaries that allow no room for discussion from children. The other side of this are “free-range” parents that allow their children to essentially set their own rules. (I pass no judgments as there is no perfect way to raise these heathens and I have met “free-range” parents who disagree with each other’s philosophies, let alone mine)
I take a more balanced approach and find it is the best way to prepare my children to make their own decisions when I’m not there to make them. If your raising a toddler right now and you think they will always come to you before making a decision I am afraid you are facing a very disappointing future. That stage starts to die the day they go to Kindergarten. The problem with setting boundaries in a totalitarian and rigid fashion is that you never allow your children to question the system and frankly sometimes the system is broke. When I show up somewhere new and want to know why we are doing something I loathe hearing “because we’ve always done it this way”. If that was the way we lived life we would all still be using out houses and burning witches at the stake. So, when a child sees something that doesn’t make any sense they should feel safe in asking why. If they don’t feel safe asking those questions it can lead to withdrawal and rebellion against a system that in their eyes makes no sense. This is not to say that rigid boundaries don’t have their place. An example of a rigid boundary in my house is on the use of drugs, underage drinking and turning in homework. I have had these conversations with my kids and continue stressing them to my middle schooler, there is no budging on them. The expectations and consequences are very clearly drawn, which gives them the consistency to make decisions from.
In comparison having no boundaries at all can leave a child feeling insecure and lost. Depending on their ages they simply lack the experience to deal with some of the choices that are presented to us daily. There is no concept of future planning with the $3.00 they may have earned for chores and no perceived consequence to downing an entire bag of candy. Where as we know that bag of candy will have us regretting life on a toilet in an hour and I might need that 3 bucks for a drink later. But, these examples are perfect opportunities to allow them to make mistakes! The beauty of allowing them to make some of the decisions is that you begin building that foundation of experience they lack in decision making before they leave your safety net at home. Sooner or later that choice to down a bag of candy will be replaced with a keg stand…
(Dr. Craig Childress discusses the issue of parenting a strong willed child.)
WARNING** be prepared to struggle at times when they don’t make the decision you had hoped. Example, as I try to write this my 10 year old daughter interrupted me to ask permission to bake a mug muffin and pour some chocolate milk for breakfast. She fancies herself a perfect little chef after watching a few you tube videos and TV contests. I tell her yes with the boundaries of what she can use and how to clean up. She just broke one of my shot glasses because she was using it to measure with! Face-to-Palm…. But I love my kids and like every loving parent I want the best for them. My mantra in these moments is a scene from the movie Wanted. In that movie the main character Wesley faces the decision to become an assassin or go back to his daily job crunching spreadsheets. He goes to work and looses it when he feels trapped by his cubicle and an over-weight, rude middle manager jams her grubby finger into his face about deadlines. Those oppressed people that literally trade years of their life in for a small pension or hourly wage is not the future that I have in mind for my kids. I want them to question rules, systems and themselves daily. But, I want them to do it in a way that passes the common-sense test and has acceptable consequences.
Update: The mug muffin I am told was a success, but I’m afraid to try it myself, the smell is not very inviting…
Feel free to comment below with your current struggle and as a community perhaps we can offer assistance!