When I was a child I would dream of eating a whole box of chocolates all by myself! I wished my parents weren’t so strict with the ‘no sweets’ boundaries. Today, I am really grateful as I have a mouth full of even teeth with no dental problems. Coming home at 10 p.m. was another pain to endure but they were for our own safety, although at the time we certainly did not see it that way! Some of these boundaries were set with our best interests at heart, good old fashioned intentions that were bent at times as they gave in to us on the odd occasion, much to our delight.
Have you set boundaries for your children? If so, what are they and do they know them? Are you confusing them by changing these to suit yourself or the child? What are boundaries anyway?
Here are some common boundaries:
setting bedtime on school days and holidays
having friends over for sleep-overs
going to spend a day or night with friends
knocking on a bedroom door before you barge in (child or parent)
television time and programs that are allowed
how the remote is used
physically hurting another
disrespecting another’s race or religion, or opinion
volume of music
getting home on time
pocket money, etc just to name a few.
Healthy boundaries are vital for children or like the kids in the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ kids will explode with no self-control and will grow up lacking respect for themselves and their world around them. Life would be chaotic. Boundaries provide a loving relationship with your child in the way of a framework with guidelines. Most of all, it keeps them safe. It tells children that there are limits to everything we do:
"No you can’t eat a tub of ice-cream but you can have a bowl after dinner"
"No you can’t spend the night at Tim’s house because it’s a weeknight"
"Yes you can go to the movies on Saturday provided your back home by 4 p.m."
Kids with no boundaries will have social problems, issues at school and relationships, just for starters! Once you set your boundaries according to your own set of values, it’s now up to you to ensure they are kept. No point having them and then reneging when the child says "Oh please, please can I"? To which you reply "Yes okay"!!
Perhaps you cannot be bothered or don’t have the time to discuss why the child cannot have it and it feels a whole lot easier to give in. Or you may be using a passive style of parenting which sees the child win again and again. When the child wins, healthy boundaries begin to unravel. We can be flexible at times but we cannot keep changing them or you will confuse the child. "I’ll say yes to you coming home after 4 p.m. provided Jane’s mum drops you back home no later than 6 p.m.", here you have set a boundary with a change.
What happens then if a boundary is wilfully broken? Should there be a consequence? The answer to that is a big YES!! Boundary setting cannot be successful if there are no consequences for crossing a boundary. If you don’t have consequences, the boundary will not be respected, nor will you be, as a parent. It becomes meaningless and your child will begin to mistrust you and your judgment. The idea is to make the consequence related to the boundary that has been broken.
For example after agreeing with your child that 8 p.m. is bedtime, your child refuses to go to bed, then explain to your child that if this type of behvaiour continues his bedtime will be moved to 7.30 p.m. The consequence cannot be "to read 3 books" because it is not related to not going to bed on time. (Also see alternatives to punishment on my blog for ideas). Enforce the consequence without being mean or nasty about it.
Do your children know about your boundaries? Well, with little children you cannot sit and read out your book of boundaries! Boundaries are learned within the family through discussion and talking. Kids get to understand your likes and dislikes "Brian When you ride your bike on the street without a helmet, I am afraid that you may have an accident, could you please use your helmet every time whilst riding".
Children will push to break boundaries if they really want something you may not approve of "Can’t I ride on the motorcycle with Kevin’s dad please ". At which time you will need to remind your child of what is allowed and what isn’t.
Can boundaries change? Yes they must be reviewed. They are dynamic and organically change as the child grows older and more independent. You cannot march a teenager off to bed at 7 p.m. or refuse to increase pocket money as they show more responsibility and transit into another age group with a different set of needs.
Children need reminders to help them keep boundaries so that harmony flows within the home:
"Jenny don’t forget to finish your laundry before the weekend as your camping remember"?
"Robert you need to be home by 3 p.m. as we are having guests for dinner on Saturday and I really need your help".
For morning routines I made it easy for my boys by preparing pictorials and a reminder board for the older ones. I had a sequence of the morning routine on little picture cards (clean teeth, wash face, make bed etc) and each picture was attached with velcro behind the card onto an A4 color cardboard. Once they did the task they would remove the picture and place it in a small box. It helped me nag less! It kept them amused with their new found independence to meet boundaries! Once met, I created another pictorial for evening routines.
Setting boundaries are easy, keeping track and reviewing them calls parents to be mindful and aware and discuss changes with the kids:
"I’m increasing your pocket money as I think you both deserve it"
"You can stay up for another hour as it’s a long weekend this week"
Use your imagination, skills and gentleness with boundaries. Be real and be honest. Listen and understand your children who will tell you about their changing needs. Last but not least set out with reasonable and democratic boundaries that nurture independence, growth, and value development with rich bonds of love and respect for one another. Here’s to healthy boundaries, love and harmony!