Believe it or not, children do like boundaries. They may not always show it, but boundaries are one of the key ingredients needed to help a child develop and turn into a fantastic adult. These boundaries keep children safe and help them feel looked after and protected by those caring for them. That doesn’t mean that all children have to have the same boundaries or that it is always easy for children to keep to the boundaries. A friend of mine once said to me that he taught his children growing up, ‘you know the rules of the house and I know, at times, you may break those rules. Sometimes I may not know those rules have been broken, but if I do find out that you have broken the rules, then there will be consequences.’ I found this particularly helpful as my children were turning into teenagers, because as they spend less time with you, you do not always know what they are doing. This is also a good lesson for children to know that their actions do have consequences. For example, many adults will break the speed limit when they are driving. Many times they will not be caught for doing this, but if you choose to do this there is a chance you will get caught and be fined and have penalty points on your licence. The choice is yours.
Many children cannot even comprehend the idea that adults have boundaries too, just different ones to children. We all have boundaries, from being as simple as in work, having to be there at a set time, to making sure you do your job to a certain standard, and knowing that if you do not follow these boundaries you could lose your job. I have quite often explained to my children that as their parent, I am a bit like a police officer is for adults. Predominately, you want to be able to help them and be there in their time of need, but when they have pushed the boundary lines too far, we are there to help them see the error of their way, and hopefully help them learn from their mistake.
Every child is unique and so it is important for parents to decide what boundaries suit their family and their child. My children always say I am strict compared to a lot of their friend’s parents, and at times they find that difficult, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to give in to their every demand. However, I do and have had to adapt at times, as it is important to listen to your children if they are expressing unhappiness. Children will have different bedtimes, different limits on social media and computer games, some children will have more freedom to go out accompanied without an adult – the list is endless, and children do need to learn to understand that we can’t all be the same, and us as parents also have to realise that we are not always right, and peer pressure can be very difficult and needs to be considered too when setting boundaries.
Sometimes boundaries have to be compromised on and worked out together with your children. Coming up with a set of boundaries together that you can both agree on, especially as they get older, also ensures that no one feels the boundaries are unfair. It also makes it easier if someone does not follow what has been agreed. It is as important for children to have ownership of these agreed boundaries as it is adults, and they too need to be able to tell an adult if they think a boundary set hasn’t been followed. For example, say bedtime is at 7pm but Mum and Dad are tired and are trying to rush the child to be in bed earlier. The child knows that they wait for CBeebies to end, but tonight it has changed. The child then gets upset because to them a boundary, the routine they are used to has changed. The child has every right to question why this is happening. They may not be able to verbally express their upset and frustration in words, but crying and having a tantrum, certainly shows a parent they are unhappy. Encouraging your children to have a dialogue with you is important and it may make you feel uncomfortable at times, but it works both ways. It is normal for children to say, ‘it’s so unfair and I hate you’, at times, and that can be really hard to hear. Parents usually always have their children’s best interests at heart, but it doesn’t always feel like that to children.
For boundaries to work there also needs to be trust from both sides. If this trust is broken it is also important to try and find out why. Unfortunately, there seems to be an increase in children with emotional, social or behavioural problems and this can make it even more difficult for children to keep to set boundaries, which makes it harder for parents to support them in their time of need. They then may have difficulty dealing with the feeling of shame, guilt and anger that can be associated with breaking that boundary and the situation escalates. Just because children may have difficulties with boundaries,that doesn’t mean you take them all away. It may simply mean you need to be creative, think outside the box and most importantly support the child whilst they are going through a difficult time. Even when trust has been broken, chances have to be given to build that trust back up again. We all deserve a second chance!
Finally, remember to make sure the child knows what their boundaries are. It is easy for everyone to forget at times, especially if we are busy. For example, remind a child 10 then 5 minutes before bed time that they need to get ready for bed. If your child is arguing with you and not listening, try to stay calm, remind them of the boundary and give them a chance to avoid stepping over that boundary, for example, go upstairs together and help him/her brush their teeth, if that is what the argument is about . Try to make it easy for your child to keep to the boundaries set. If they need to be back from their friend’s playing for tea at 5pm, give them a text 10 minutes beforehand to remind them to come home. Let them know you want them to succeed, rather than fail, at keeping boundaries and that will also make it easier for both you and them!