Setting Boundaries For Yourself and Your Children

Setting Boundaries for Children

You feel like the whole world are purposely being rude, irritating, useless. You start to feel like your child is making you climb the walls on purpose too. What is it with the whole World being out to get you? To wind you up? To be there just to cause you obstacles? These frustrations can start creeping into all relationships in your life and before you know it life is not very enjoyable anymore. This blog post helps to change all that, following Professor Brené Brown’s video about boundary setting.

Why is Boundary Setting So Important?

If we did not set boundaries for ourselves, it would mean we are always saying ‘yes’, even if inside we don’t want to say yes. It can be less intentioned than saying ‘yes’ when meaning ‘no’, and subconsciously allowing somebody to treat you how you would prefer not to be treated.

If you are able to set and hold boundaries, people feel respected and respectful, which makes room for great relationships to form with people around you including your friends, husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, family and colleagues. Setting boundaries for your children’s behaviours will instil them with the ability to respect others and hold boundaries themselves. Boundaries help you and your child know what is within your control and what is not.

If you do not set boundaries, you may be being a permissive parent rather than the gentle parent you aim to be. Not enforcing suitable boundaries for your child hurting another, for example, can eventually teach them not to respect others’ boundaries or needs, to feel they should be able to get away with anything they choose to do regardless of other people’s feelings and they will likely struggle with respecting others and feel frustrated that others don’t seem to like them for who they are.

What Sort of Boundaries Should I Set?

You can have different boundaries for different people, as well as some boundaries that can change when you feel more comfortable or after some further research or experience. Rachel Brian’s book about ‘Respect: Consent, Boundaries and Being in Charge of YOU’ has a very useful and simple way of debating boundaries which is also suitable for youths.

Some boundaries we set in our house include the following, to give you an idea of the kind of boundaries you may want to set:

  • No hurting each other physically
  • No disrespecting each other emotionally
  • No throwing objects near people, in case they hurt another person
  • Allowing each child to have their turn, and the other can only use that toy after the first child has finished their turn (essentially, sharing and allowing others to share belongings)

How To Remain Gentle While Enforcing a Boundary?

An important aspect of setting boundaries as a gentle parent is that we should not make the boundaries feel forced. Bribes, threats, shouting, comparing to others or belittling a behaviour can result in the boundary being achieved in the present moment but resentment over it and a different action being taken in the future. The major boundary to hold out of all boundaries is that boundary setting should be respectful, as that teaches your child to respect others when holding their boundaries too.

Set the Example

A boundary in our house is ‘not hurting others’ through smacking for example. How can I expect my children not to smack if I smack them? That is the first boundary rule, if I expect a behaviour from my child then I won’t do that behaviour myself. The sooner you can hold the boundary in your own behaviour and reactions towards your children, the sooner they will copy your behaviours.

Respectful Discipline

Now it’s worth mentioning the steps to disciplining a child which I’ve detailed in an earlier post on dealing with childhood emotions. I have summarised the steps here but I would recommend reading the previous post for more help on these steps. The below steps are useful if your child is doing something dangerous and a clear boundary is set.

  • Protection – when the actions our children take pose a danger to themselves or others, we need to protect the target.
  • Emotion – next step is to discuss the emotions they were feeling which caused them to behave this way. It may be safer to wait until the emotion has passed, and if so just mention to your child that we’ll discuss this later. Personally I’ve always discussed the emotion in the moment with them as I haven’t yet been triggered by strong reactions. If you understand that the first words to come out of your mouth are related to your child’s feeling, this offers them empathy and allows you to understand their perspective too.
  • Perception – now you can mention your own feelings or preferences on the matter.
  • ‘Can’t Allow’ – state that you cannot allow your child to do such behaviour. This makes it clear that you have set a boundary. The context of why you must hold that boundary has been communicated openly with your child in the steps above.
  • What They Can-Do – this is an important stage to reducing the number of times this behaviour repeats. Tell your son or daughter what they can do instead next time, whatever ideas you can think of. You can even ask them if they have any ideas of what they could have done instead (they usually repeat your ideas if this is a repeated discussion).
  • Stories – I then create a little story about the great idea we had. This instils them with the confidence that the solution we created in the last step actually still has the outcome they want.

The Benefits of Strong and Gentle Boundary Setting

Our society is full of laws and rules. When you start a new school or work, before your first day you are often given a list of expectations and rules. It helps if you have been raised to respect boundaries to be able to adhere to these rules in the future. You appreciate that different people have different needs and that usually boundaries are in place for the best of everybody’s safety or growth.

Setting boundaries for themselves will come easier to your children. They will be used to considering reasons that boundaries are set by your parenting model, so setting and justifying boundaries kindly to the people around them will come more naturally to them. This will help protect them in certain situations where they may not feel comfortable, for example allowing someone into their house where their gut tells them they feel uncomfortable with it.

Body Autonomy and Boundary Setting

Many gentle parents are experts in the use of language and how that affects the behaviours of our children now and in the future. Let’s talk through an example of boundaries that some parents might set with their children and how that repeated language and behaviour might look in the future.

Give Me a Kiss, I’m Your Dad, Kiss Me, Come on Son, Be Respectful!

The father who believes his son giving him a kiss goodbye as he sets off for work in the morning is a sign of respect. The father feels like his son does not love him if he does not return a kiss. The son feels forced to kiss or his father or else his dad gets frustrated with him. In the future, this kind of pressure for a child to say ‘yes’ when they feel ‘no’ can lead him to do things in relationships with other people when he does not want to.

Would You Like a Kiss?

Another attachment parenting mother likes to ask her children for a kiss or hug, rather than expect it. Before every physical interaction, she opens her arms and offers ‘would you like a kiss?’. She is showing her love and want for affection by opening her arms and smiling, but she is not expecting it in return. If her son or daughter says ‘no’, she respects that no and says very kindly ‘that’s ok, would you like to read a story instead?’ for example. In the future, you will see this child ask for affection with another person. My 3 year old daughter asks her 20 month old brother “would you like a hug? No, ok.” and it’s a very respectful and happy interaction even when he says no. It’s how she’s used to being treated herself so she naturally treats others this way.

When Boundaries Differ

You may come across situations where one person’s boundary is different to yours. Alternatively, you may hold the same boundary but have a different view on how to enforce the boundary. You may now feel uncertain about your boundary because you can appreciate their views too, or because they are so strongly holding onto their boundary. This is where debates and arguments can come up – see my blog post about aligning with your partner’s parenting goals too.

The healthiest way to deal with differences on opinions regarding boundaries and boundary setting is to research your views. See if the other person is also willing to research theirs. You can even research both sides but be aware that you may be biased towards the answer being in your favour. Debates between two parents in this way can help us do the best for our children through current research available.

Further Reading

Setting limits is so important for helping your children face the world around them and not test your boundaries constantly. There is a book written by Robert Mackenzie ‘Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child’ dedicated to helping you set clear limits. The book is aimed for strong-willed children, though I found the points are relevant for my children too who are not very strong willed. As I read the book, even though my husband and I have tried to not let our 3 year old have to be told anything more than once, we have started slipping on this occasionally. This book reinforced how following through on boundaries consistently helps the children learn about who is in charge and follow their instruction for other issues as well. It makes sense.

As I read this book, I realised I had started letting my daughter get away with not brushing her teeth when I said. I’d let her say ‘I’m just finishing this tower…’. I’d say fine. Then she’d be hiding behind the sofa and say ‘after I’ve read this book’. I had things to do so I said ‘ok after that book…’ Then I enforced that she brushes her teeth. Perhaps this limit testing should have been enforced after the tower, or even when I decided originally that it was time. Certainly I should not have let her continue dictating that she be allowed to play behind the sofa for even longer. Even if we feel confident in how we are parenting, our kids can test us constantly and it may take reading a book like Robert MacKenzie’s to help get us back on track.

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