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Children's health

Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children

Saturday, May 10, 2008 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: children's health, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Image you are standing on the roof deck of a skyscraper. There are no railings, the wind is blowing and the building sways. Where would you be? You would probably be in the center where you could gather some feeling of security. Now imagine there are high sturdy railings around the edge of the roof deck. You walk over to the railing, push on it a few times to make sure it is sturdy and will hold. Now you feel secure and free to stand by the edge, maybe even look down or out into the beyond.

Those railings really changed the experience for you, didn't they? You went from feeling insecure to feeling secure just by having a firm boundary around you. It is just this kind of feeling of security your child is after when he challenges you to set firm and consistent limits and boundaries for him.

When you set solid limits and boundaries for your child, you are sending him a clear message that says, "I care about you and I want you to be safe and feel secure as you learn about the world. I am an authority on whom you can always rely."

Some of the members of the current generation of parents seem to have difficulty setting and enforcing limits and boundaries for their children. Some of them may be insecure in their own lives and experiences, and inadequately prepared to provide a secure environment for their children. Others have consciously or unconsciously decided that being their child's friend is more important than being his parent.

Don't let your child grow up an orphan.

Think about what kind of relationship your child has with his friends. Friends are equals. Each feels free to tell the other what he thinks, and to be a confidant. Childhood friends drop each other and move on to other friendships, experiencing all the different personalities that life has to offer. Friends don't guide, nurture, and protect each other; they don't set boundaries and limits for each other. Is this the kind of relationship you want to have with your child?

Being a friend to your child is one way to sidestep the conflict, responsibility and pain of being a parent. It's also a good place to hide if you don't know how to parent. But your role in your child's life is to be his parent. Being a parent is not an adversarial relationship, but one in which clear lines are drawn about who is in charge. When you find yourself and your child thinking alike, or spending a lot of time hanging out together, it may be time to rethink your role. If you are not creating a solid, secure base from which your child can explore the world, you are probably being a friend rather than a parent.

After all, your child is aware that he is a child and doesn't know how to 'do' life yet. If he perceives that no one is in charge and acting like a parent, he will act out until you rise to the occasion. Being without a parent is the most insecure feeling a child can have. If you don't know how to run things, who does?

When parents try to be friends with their children it sends a confusing message. When your child does something wrong, you will need to enforce the right behavior, but your child will not understand the role change. It undermines his feelings of security for you to be inconsistent in your role as parent.

What a boundary or limit provides

The world can be just as intimidating for your child as being on that skyscraper's roof deck without a railing was for you. Children look to their parents to tell them what is expected of them, what is OK to do and how to act. When they are young, boundaries usually center on safety, but as your child gets older you will need a new set of limits that fit with your child's expanding world.

Limits are the safe zone for your child. Within the limits, the world is safe and predictable. It's easier for your child to venture out into the rest of the world when he know there is this safe zone you have created for him.

Many parents have a hard time setting boundaries for their children because they are afraid that if they do, their child won't like them. Some parents also feel that setting limits restricts their child's creativity or sense of exploration. But since your child is aware that he doesn't know how to do life yet, he is going to act out until you assume the leadership role of parent. He will push you again and again until you show him where his limits are.

When you refuse to respond to your child's demand to set limits and boundaries for him, you put him in a dangerous position. In order to get you to respond, your child will continually test you by doing whatever inappropriate behavior he can think of to awaken the parent in you. He may talk to strangers, engage in inappropriate sexual activity, develop an eating disorder, take up substance abuse, or fail at school.

Clear and consistently enforced limits and boundaries teach your child the rules of life, so that he can grow up and fit in.

How to set and enforce limits for your child

As you ponder how to set and enforce limits for your child, keep in mind that this is an act of nurturing and love. You are not trying to control your child. You are simply being a good parent. So, with that in mind:

Consider the age and developmental stage of your child. Boundaries for young children should be about safety, with you making all the decisions. Limits for older children, while still involving your vigilance for their safety, should present them with appropriate opportunities for decision making. Children don't magically grow up to make good decisions. They learn how to do it from experience.

Reassess the boundaries you have set for your child. As he matures in experience and judgment, expand the limits and introduce new ones as needed. New situations such as going out with friends or driving a car will involve a whole new set of limits.

Make sure your child understands that there are direct consequences for violating your boundaries or limits. Discuss these consequences upfront, and make sure you explain that your position as a parent requires you to be the enforcer of consequences. You are not doing it out of meanness. Nevertheless, you will do it, always, consistently.

Remember that it is by teaching your child how to own up to the consequences of his actions that he will grow up to be a truly free individual. A person who does not own his actions is forever a slave.

Enforce the limits consistently. When you first set a limit or boundary, your child may test it, several times. He may complain, cry, throw a fit, call you mean, or any other challenging behavior. When he does this, he is just doing his job as your child. It is his job to test those boundaries to make sure they are solid, sturdy and will hold up under pressure. Just like you tested those railings on the roof deck. If you cave in to his pressure, the ultimate result is that you undermine his feeling of security. If he can't count on you being rock solid about what affects his well being, what is there in the world that he can count on?

If you have a hard time setting limits

Try to let go of the feeling of wanting love from your child. Focus instead on loving him and doing what is best for him.

Remember that he may scream and cry for a short while, but over time he will respect and value you for what you are doing. As an adult, he will look back and know that you always did what was best for him in the long run, not what was best for you at the moment.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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