Getting over the difficulties establishing boundaries and maintaining them with your children
Boundaries and Security
Getting over the obstacle of Boundaries
It is natural to dislike telling your children no. Setting boundaries is another way of saying ‘no’ to your children. Although telling them no is unpleasant at times, it is necessary. The first obstacle to overcome in your setting boundaries with your children is that of being alright with saying no. You may have to give yourself permission to say ‘no’. Telling your children ‘no’ does not make you a mean person. It shows them that you care enough to set limits.
Some boundaries are natural safety issues. Things like playing in the street, playing with ‘real guns’ and playing with matches are safety issues. Although setting boundaries in these areas seems like a ‘no-brainer’, for some people, setting even these simple boundaries are a struggle. Looking at the potential danger of such behavior makes setting the boundary easier.
There are also pro-social boundaries. This would include matters like profanity, cruelty to animals, sexual play, various forms of name-calling and abusive language. The child learns from you what is acceptable and what is not. If you are doing these things around your child, you are making boundary setting more difficult than it needs to be. When you have one boundary for adults and another for the child, it sends a confusing message. It also makes for a boundary that is hard to enforce.
Unclear boundaries create a sense of confusion. When the boundaries are not secure, the child will be unsure as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. There is also confusion when the boundaries are inconsistent. When you enforce them one day and then allow them to slide the next, you are creating confusion. When there is confusion, the child often resorts to manipulation to deal with it.
Your children will test your boundaries. There are many reasons for them doing so. In some cases, they need to feel safe and secure. When boundaries are consistent and clear, they often produce and environment that feels safe and secure. This means that you and your spouse will need to be clear about what you expect from your child. If there is disagreement between you and your spouse, there were be a default confusion. There may be times that you find yourself enforcing some boundaries that you don’t especially like, yet that is part of working together as parents in raising children.
It would be nice if children learned all at once. They do not. Many times their behavior is shaped by you being consistent over time. As you work with them on what is acceptable behavior, your child will attempt getting you to back down. They may offer you 60% compliance on complying with the boundary. Some parents back down or give in at this point. They are so happy with partial compliance, they rejoice. Tolerating less than 100% compliance often leads to further problems.
You will need to work with your spouse on maintaining consistency with the boundaries the two of you want to use. When the child test the boundaries, you may have to consider violations on a case by case basis. When your child forgets, or makes a mistake, it is not the same as willful disobedience. You will need to temper your response to boundary violations depending on what was behind the violation.
Obtaining compliance by manipulation or gifts is never a good idea. The child learns how to manipulate things in order to get the prize, and not comply based on the importance of the boundary. You want your child to listen to you based on you being the parent and having a position of authority. When you base compliance on your size or manipulation, then it is only a matter of time before the boundaries are in shambles. Some boundaries are long-term, while others are situational.
You will need to make these clear to your child. Things like playing with fire, knives and guns changes when they learn how to handle such things safely. There are many things in life that are dangerous and beneficial. We often have to master those areas. When it comes to the children, you may need to let them know that they will have to learn how to deal with them before you let them use those tools. Boundaries are in important part of life. Learning how to set them and overcome the obstacles to setting them is a part of parenting.