Raising A Child With Boundaries
Raising a child with boundaries can produce healthier, well adjusted children. Children actually crave limits and boundaries. What does it mean to set healthy boundaries with children?
Children actually crave healthy limits and boundaries. Their behavior may speak loudly that they want to be in charge and able to do whatever they want. However, unconsciously children know that without healthy limits and boundaries, life will be chaos. They have an internal knowledge that they should not be the ones in charge and they depend on parents and other adults in their lives to set boundaries which will nourish and protect them.
Many, perhaps most, adults grew up in homes where there was not healthy boundary-setting. Thus, adults lack the life experience of knowing what healthy boundaries are, nor do they know how to set them with their own children.
What are boundaries? It is helpful to think of physical boundaries first. Among countries, there are clear delineations which mark for all to know where one country begins and another ends. Fences are said to make "good neighbors", another example of knowing where one's property ends and another's starts. We end our days by pulling our own vehicles into our own driveways and our own garages. It is unthinkable that we would simply walk into the house of a neighbor, claiming that it doesn't make any difference which house we spend our evenings and weekends in. Life is full of boundaries and they exist for a purpose.
For a human being, the first physical boundary is skin. My skin contains the person that I am. I am not you, and you are not me. One of the ways we know this for sure is that our skin tells us where we start and end.
Children need to be taught to respect the boundaries set by their skin. Their bodies belong to themselves and to no one else. An example of good boundary-setting is teaching children about "good touch, bad touch", warning them and conveying to them that no one else can touch them in private areas.
Young children in the same family are often bathed together. For the first few years of life, this is appropriate. Somewhere around the sixth year, however, the child may request to bathe alone. This is the child's attempt to convey a need for privacy. If the child does not make this request, this becomes the responsibility of the parent. Teach your kids that they deserve privacy. A payoff will be that they will learn to respect the needs other family members have for privacy.
Closed bedroom doors are another example of families attempting to set boundaries. Children need to be taught that they NEVER open a closed door without first knocking. Explain to your kids that this is a sign of respect for the need for privacy. Honor your children by behaving in the same manner with them when the doors to their rooms are closed. As adults, we need to teach by example. You must knock on your children's doors if you want them to behave in a similar fashion when it comes to YOUR door.
The bathroom is an area which needs boundary setting. Children, as soon as they are toilet-trained, should be taught that all people in the family desire privacy in the bathroom. This means that adults must honor the kids' need for bathroom-privacy. Boundaries are a two-way street. It is not all about the adults making kids learn to respect the adults' boundaries; it is about all people in the home living together in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Boundaries pertain, too, to property. Much of the squabbling in homes is due to children not respecting each other's boundaries when it comes to physical property, e.g. toys. When kids make a homemade sign to put on their door saying, "Danger...Keep Out...This Means You", they are delineating a boundary and shouting loud and clear, "this is MY room; please respect my privacy." All human beings need privacy. Even in the most crowded living conditions, this can be respected by carving out small spaces which honor this need. Clothing needs to not be borrowed without specific permission. Toys, while needing to be shared, need to be acknowledged as belonging to one person (unless there are games or other toys which are acknowledged as "family property", belonging to the whole family.) Toothbrushes, towels, face cloths are private property. Teaching your children that some items are not to be used interchangeably lays a foundation for more important lessons. Teach your children to not eat from others' plates. Set examples for your kids by asking permission to borrow items from other adults as well as from the children.
Another important boundary lesson children need to be taught is their right to say "no." If your children observe you saying "yes" to every favor requested of you, then hear you complaining about that, they will infer that when others make a request of them, they are to always grant the other's request, no matter what cost to themselves. Children need to be taught that they can set boundaries with others regarding doing things for others that would be harmful to themselves. Teach your kids that they have a right to have some of their own needs met. Life for them is not to be all about meeting the needs of others. It is good to teach your kids to be unselfish, giving, caring people, but not to the extent that they are giving so much to others that they are depleting themselves. It is one thing to be a kind person; it's quite another to be a "doormat" willing to have others wipe their feet on you. Teach your kids the boundary of respecting themselves.
Children need to know that, while they are incredibly important, they are the children and the adults are the adults and the ones in charge. Do your kids the favor of limiting their authority and power, increasing it in response to their growing age, responsibility-taking, and abilities. It is too much for children to be treated as equals with adults. It overpowers them to not set the boundary of "the adults are in charge." They will protest long and loud, but inside they are grateful that they are not being given more responsibility than they can handle.
It's okay to let your kids know that the adults have some needs, too, and while you, the adult, are incredibly devoted to meeting their needs, you are not intent upon meeting any "want" they have. A good boundary lesson for kids is helping them understand the difference between their wants and their needs. Even a four year old can understand that they need food, but they want the latest toy. Set the boundary that you cannot meet all their wants, but you will never let them down when it comes to their needs.
Adults need to help children understand that there are boundaries in life which enhance living. See to it that your children understand boundaries in the areas of the physical, property, privacy, and hierarchy (the adults are in charge, not the kids.) In doing so, you will be doing them a favor that will benefit them throughout their lives.