Written by: Cally Worden
Parental boundaries are the guidelines we establish on behalf of our kids, creating a safe space within which they can exist. They are the invisible safety net, borne of an adult take on the world and our children just love to push against them and test the waters that lie beyond.
The Fine Line
The boundary lines between ourselves, as parents, and our children as distinct individuals, can easily become blurred as we strive to help them make good choices, we have to fight the urge to step in and fix their problems. But if our kids are to grow into responsible, aware and emotionally self-sufficient individuals we need to curb our protective tendencies and allow them to grow on their own sometimes. This applies to younger children too.
It means allowing them to enjoy their successes, also learn to deal with their failures. Not alone – we can and should be there to support them – if they are to learn how to operate effectively in an adult world, at some point that independence needs to be established. Not always pretty for a parent to watch, but essential if our kids are to enjoy a full and rich life.
What Kind of Boundaries?
When our kids are little we build boundaries for them – simple rules that help them stay safe, but also learn about the world. With younger kids these rules may be things like not touching the iron or cooker, understanding that fetching your own coat is not a punishment, just a fact of life (Mum is not your personal servant!).
As our children blossom into young adults the boundaries we set becomes more about responsibility, our children are encouraged also to learn how to set their own personal limits. Examples would be an expectation of help around the house via an allocation of regular chores, respecting home-time limits, and being prepared to say ‘No’ in the face of peer pressure, if a situation feels uncomfortable.
Acknowledging that our kids are individuals can be tricky at times. There is a tendency in some instances to try and micro-manage their world. You know you are in danger of blurring the boundaries between you both if you are:
- Constantly doing things for your child that they are capable of achieving themselves
- Regularly questioning your child about their life
- Falling to pieces if your child becomes upset
- Living your desired life through your child
- Allowing your child to invade your ‘Couples’ space
- Suppressing parental authority and allowing your child too much freedom
- Treating your child as if they are your friend
Good parenting (and solid boundary maintenance) requires a degree of emotional detachment. This is not about abandoning your child to fend for themselves, it’s about being able to step back and view any situation involving your child objectively, asking ‘Is what I’m doing/proposing really in their best interests?‚Äô Avoid over-empathising – if your child is feeling sad or mad because of a boundary you are enforcing (such as not being allowed out somewhere with their friends), trust in your own judgement and in their ability to manage hurt and disappointment. Feel sad for them by all means, but allow them the right to experience and learn from their own emotions too.
4 Tips for Creating Healthy Boundaries
- Define your own boundaries – if you are unclear on your values and beliefs it will be difficult for your child to follow your example and learn how to establish their own
- Be clear on your expectations – both of yourself and in terms of what you expect from your child. There is no better way to confuse a child than to contradict yourself
- Focus on you – if conflict arises, it’s important to self-assess and check that you are communicating your expectations and boundaries clearly to your child. They can still be accountable for how they respond, especially as they grow older, by knowing and managing yourself you stand a better chance of being heard by your child
- Follow through on consequences – boundaries only work if they are real. If you constantly cave in or move the goalposts your child will never learn to accept responsibility for their actions, or learn about consequences.