Setting Boundaries for Ourselves and Our Loved Ones
When babies are born they are cute as a button, they have more appeal than a shoulder of mutton, but as they grow the novelty fades and children become many colors and shades.*
- Teaching Children Trust
Trust is the first thing children learn after birth. It is built on the premise that their needs will be met by those who care for them and continues only as the child's needs continue to be met.
Boundaries begin in infancy
When our infants come home cradled in our arms, the first thing they experience is our unconditional love. It surrounds them with warmth and tenderness, giving them the ability to turn to us in their times of need. When they are hungry, we feed them. When they are wet, we change them.
When they are uncomfortable, we make adjustments in temperature, texture, and other things to help them feel better. As our infants grow, we are concerned for their safety and protection. We put boundaries around them in the form of cribs, playpens, swings, and car seats to keep them safe from the world. We make sure that they are buckled, fastened, and cuddled. As we do so, our infants learn that they can depend on us. They feel happy and secure, even though they may have discomfort during transition from one event to another, they trust that we will be there for them in the end.
This trust is like a house that is built around our children. It allows them to grow and progress in a safe environment where their needs are met. The boundaries we set for our own behavior form the walls of this house, giving structure and stability to the life of the child, as well as guiding our choices and behaviors.
Some children whine and cry in the night when bad dreams awake them with terrible fright. Some children grow so fast that they hurt, some children come in covered with dirt.
Children constantly test the boundaries we set
Children do not have the reasoning skills of adults. They only understand what they experience. They sense when we are out of sorts and having a difficult time by the way we speak and interact with them. During times of stress and fatigue, the boundaries we set for ourselves and our loved ones are tested. The questions below help us to determine if we are having boundary issues that could affect our spouse and/or our children.
- What do I do when awakened in the night by a crying child?
- How do I respond when my spouse or child is ill?
- When do I become angry with my spouse or child and how do I express that anger?
- How do I let others know when I am frustrated or stressed?
- Our Families Were Meant to be Enjoyed, Not Just Endured
Our greatest joys and deepest sorrows are experienced in the family. Savoring the good times fills us with a reservoir of memories that keep us afloat when the storms of life threaten.
If we are prone to act out physically when tired or stressed, we are at risk of doing things that hurt ourselves and our family members. Before we realize what is happening, our spouse or children are cowering in fear rather than coming to us for love and affection.
It is wise for us to have contingency plans for when things are not going well. Are we aware of our own triggering situations and feelings? Do we have friends or extended family we can talk to when we are having a tough time? Is there someone we can call to come and be with our children while we take some time to get ourselves together?
How do we adjust when changes happen? Are we able to rethink our priorities, make new schedules, and teach children new protocol while we are going through these adjustments? Deciding ahead of time what we will do when we are out of sorts puts a boundary on our own behavior and protects our spouse and children from unnecessary attacks on their physical well-being and sense of self-worth.
Some children are easy and others are hard, they are never the same, like a bucket of lard. They have emotions and feelings, personalities to match, and they don't look alike, as goslings that hatch.
Boundaries change as children grow
As children begin to move around and explore their world, cribs and playpens are replaced with teaching through words. Now is the time to teach possession, safety, sharing, choices, consequences, and how things work.
Children need discipline. First and foremost, they need to be taught what behavior is appropriate. When they do something that they should not, it is our job as parents to instruct them on what to do instead, and then practice with them until they are comfortable with the skill themselves. The chart below shows how this can be done before, during, and after misbehavior.
Hitting or slapping
Teach gentle touches
Say "Stop" and have the child touch gently
Point out when others use gentle touches
Taking things away from others
Teach possession using the words "yours," "mine," and "ours," and how to ask before using someone else's things
Have the child ask the other person if they can use their things. If the other child isn't ready, have them tell the child that they can have it when they are done
Praise when the child asks to use other's things. Praise the other child when they give a positive response or says that they can use it when done
Teach that teeth are used for eating food
Rub the top lip of the child with the knuckle of the hand, or wipe lips with a cold cloth
While brushing teeth, reinforce appropriate uses for them
Teach that everyone is special, and that their name is important to them
Have the child think up good names to give the other person, such as friend, sister, or brother
When the child uses an appropriate name, praise them for helping the other person feel good
Pushing and shoving
Teach kindness by using words when we want someone to move
Have the child practice asking the other person to "move, please"
If the child says, "move, please" rather than pushing or shoving, give praise
Interrupting adult conversations
Teach the child to wait when an adult is speaking. If they need something right away, say "Excuse me" and tell why they interrupted
When a child interrupts, look them in the eye, and ask them if it is very important. If not, tell them to wait until you are finished
Thank children when they do not interrupt adult conversations on the telephone or while visiting
Teach that books are for looking at gently. Read often with the child to model appropriate use of books
Put your hand on the book and say, "be gentle with the book"
Praise the child when they look at a book gently
Writing on walls
Teach that crayons and markers are to be used on paper and in coloring books at the table
Have the child put the crayon or marker on the table, then give them cleaning supplies to scrub off the writing on the wall
Note how nice the walls look when we choose to color in our books and on paper instead
Most children will learn just what they are taught, whether we want them to or not! They pick up on attitudes, choices and things, the example that adults around them bring.
When was the last time you held yourself accountable for your behavior?
We teach boundaries by example
Our children follow our example, whether good or bad. We are their first teachers. They do what we do, and say what we say. If we have not set boundaries for ourselves when it comes to expressing our anger and displeasure, our children will not either. If we hit, they will hit. If we are kind, they will be kind.
The time that we spend teaching our children what they can and cannot do gives us the upper hand when we are with them away from our homes. We cannot expect them to behave any different from what they have been taught. When we spend time talking about what will happen and what we expect, our children behave more appropriately.
Our children only know what they live when we are with them. As they grow to adulthood, the attitudes and practices we have chosen will be the introduction that they have to the world. They see the world through our eyes. If we are trustworthy, and have treated them with respect, they will do the same for others.
They yell if we yell, they're kind if we're kind, they work like we work, they find what we find. Everything that we say and do, our children will mirror, exaggerated, too!
If we don't like what our children are doing, we need to look in the mirror
Boundaries apply just as much to us as adults as they do to our children. If we are pointing the finger at their behavior, it is wise for us to evaluate our own, keeping in mind that what we do, they do. If we take the time when our children are young to model and teach appropriate behavior, we will not be embarrassed by our children in public, no matter what their age. They are mirrors of us, and only do what they have seen us do.
There will be times when we do not feel like doing what is best for our family. Our only recourse in these cases, is to look beyond ourselves to a higher power. Humility and courage are needed to admit that we cannot do it alone. Yet, once we tap into that power, we find strength that we did not know we had previously.
Negative teaching breeds lack of respect, fighting and quarreling, the pain of neglect. If we do not want our children this way, then we need to look at ourselves today.
How do we know if we need to improve our behavior?
Negative teaching doesn't happen intentionally. It comes as a result of little indiscretions that are allowed to slip around our boundaries. We may not mean for these things to happen, they just do. Sometimes situations in our lives turn off our feelings to the point that we do not sense the feelings of others. To find out if our behavior is affecting our family members negatively, we can ask ourselves these questions:
- Do my spouse and children come to me when they want to talk about something, positive or negative?
- Do I take the time to seek out my spouse and children to share my experiences, positive or negative?
- Do I actively listen when my spouse or children talk to me, and reflect back how I think that they are feeling, or summarize what they are saying?
- Do I have someone outside of my family that helps me work through problems I am experiencing with my employment?
If we cannot answer these questions affirmatively, we may have said and done something inadvertently that lead to our spouse or children feeling that we do not care about them, or that their needs are not important. When we adopt an "I don't care" attitude toward our family members, they become objects rather than people, and the risk of family problems increases.
Children who have not been taught appropriate behavior are tossed to and fro by the winds of their peer group, the media, and those who would take advantage of their vulnerability. Sooner or later, they are an embarrassment to us and our families, and we wonder where we went wrong.
Positive teaching plants values galore, the seeds of honesty, integrity, patience and more. We want our children to grow up prepared with self-esteem, respect, and willingness to share.
- Roles and Responsibilities in the Family
There are primary and secondary roles and responsibilities within the family. Primary are biologically based according to male and female; whereas secondary are divided among family members.
Spouses and children who are being treated with love and respect mirror that behavior toward others. They have a brightness in their eyes and they feel confident about themselves and their abilities. They know what is expected of them, speak appropriately to others, are able to handle conflicts, and use problem solving skills. We hear about their good behavior from others.
These children are not afraid to stand up, they know what it takes to have their own sup. They are the ones who'll withstand the day, who know right and good aren't a high price to pay.
Setting boundaries lasts a lifetime
The setting of boundaries begins in infancy and continues until our children are grown and raising families of their own. Even then, we need to set limitations on our behavior when we are with them, and allow them to set their own for themselves. Relationships are a big part of life, and setting boundaries for ourselves and our loved ones is necessary, for your emotional health!
© 2013 by Denise W. Anderson. All rights reserved. This hub is an Emotional Survival Resource. For more information on emotional health and emotional survival, see www.denisewa.com.
*Poem "Children" by Denise W. Anderson