As parents we are well aware that it is completely normal for children to test limits and boundaries, this is part of growing up and becoming independent in thought and action and aides in teaching them about making good choices.
Children need to flex their boundary-pushing muscles and assert their individuality.
Our privileged role is to teach our children how to push the boundaries with respect and without defiance or anger. Also for them to know that ultimately we make the final decision, in their best interests.
The paradox is that when children don’t have clear boundaries they tend to feel insecure because the power balance is off kilter. Children are not meant to have the all the control, and a situation like this is harmful for all involved.
The bottom line: In a power struggle, the parent has to be a clear winner. But it’s how this happens that determines a successful or otherwise outcome.
How to Establish Boundaries for Children
Here are some ways parents can gently guide children in the right direction when they push the boundaries:
Teach them to express their opinions and needs in a nice and respectful manner: model the behaviour you want to see in your child. Speak to your child in a kind but firm tone, while disciplining, and refrain from shouting or putting your child down when he does something wrong or you don’t agree with him.
Be clear about the non-negotiables: have, and reinforce, clear rules with your child and let her know that while you are open to her respectful opinion about what she feels is unfair, there are some things, that are simply non-negotiable.
Be age appropriate when dealing with your child: younger children will not respond to, or be able to digest a long-winded explanation of why the rules are in place. Be age appropriate and communicate at your child’s level to ensure that he understands and has a full grasp of the boundary and your expectations of him.
Rather than a long verbal discussion about the why’s, give consequences to the breaking of specific boundaries that she can fully understand, especially when they impact on the activities and things she loves the most i.e. not having time to read a favourite bedtime story, or have a snuggle if getting ready for bed is taking too long.
Be consistent: stick to your guns! It’s no good vacillating from day-to-day on what the boundaries are. Children need to know that they can trust what you say, even if they don’t like the boundary and they constantly test the limit. If you stick to your guns they will feel secure and be able to trust you throughout their lives. This includes following through on consequences, if they think you don’t mean what you say then there is no point to the boundary.
Repetition and Reinforcement is key to boundaries: Keep repeating the boundary and reinforcing it with appropriate consequences, but not punishment. Children need to hear and see consistent action in order for the message to hit home, and even then, there will be boundary pushing!
No parent is perfect, if you get it wrong or mess it up badly, pick yourself up and keep trying. It will get easier the more you practice boundary making and keeping. If you feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, or unequal to the task, enlist the help and support of your partner and make sure your boundaries and consequences are agreed upon as a team so that you are both singing the same tune! Children love to play one parent off against another!
With time and practice you will become better at setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries until it becomes habit!
Plus the upside is the happy, secure and well-adjusted children you will have who understand consequences and how to make good choices!