For a child, not having secure and safe boundaries for their behaviour, their routines and their everyday living, can be a constant level of stress because those boundaries let them know you are there, and they are safe. Constant stress from not having boundaries can destabilise their natural playfulness and exhibit in challenging and often out of control behaviours.
Boundaries offer a safe space to learn how to communicate, how to express both verbally and non-verbally, they are responsive to behaviour and set foundations for future communication.
As much as children need boundaries, they are also very likely to challenge their boundaries as they develop and learn how to self-regulate. In the same way a goat bashes its head against a barn door, children can hit their head against the boundary again and again and as they do, they learn to be aware of their surroundings and be responsive to the consequences of their choices. In this case their body gives them an egg on their head. Ouch!
So why is the boundary there, and how do we balance a boundary that offers a sense of stability with a boundary that doesn’t crush independence and expression?
Boundaries are not about control, or raising compliant children, they are for children to learn about responsibility, decency and respect through expression. They are not fixed; they are responsive to what is presenting.
Reacting to a boundary can feel like the only recourse if there is a sense of not being understood or listened to. Yet the reaction, is just that, a re-action and people don’t tend to listen to the behaviour that comes from a re-action.
If you are in re-action, you will not treat people with decency or respect because nothing matters at that point other than the reaction, being right, getting what you want and justifying your behaviour.
We should perhaps pause and ask ourselves why are they hitting their head against the barn door in the first place? Has some verbal or non-verbal communication already happened, have they got a truth to tell, and we have missed or ignored it because we don’t want to hear it? Are they ready for more responsibility? If we want to get underneath these reactions, we need to listen to everything we are seeing and hearing, we need to turn up our communication radar and see, hear and feel the ‘why’.
If we have a base line where communication, listening, responsibility, decency and respect are key principals of responsive boundaries that underlie our parenting, then we have more opportunities to hear what is truly being communicated and see beyond the re-actions to the boundaries.
Is your child ready for more responsibility – regardless of their physical age? If so, offer opportunities to contribute to the running of the home, to life, to work.
If boundaries respond to what is called for and needed in the young person’s growth and development, then they also learn to self-regulate and, well, not do stupid things!
That is a great life lesson and one that lives way beyond our parenting.