When I was younger, my parents, especially my Father, wanted to ensure that I was self-sufficient, self-motivated, but most importantly, self-disciplined. We all learn what is right and what is wrong, we develop a moral compass that points us in the right direction, the hardest thing to teach our children is how to read their compass and navigate by it.
One of the waypoints to self-discipline that I was taught by my parents was Boundaries.
We all give our children boundaries for protection from injury, shame, or from others, but our children, and others often see these boundaries as a fence to keep our children in, and not the harmful things out. These boundaries during the formative years of our children’s lives set the tone for years to come, if a child is allowed free reign in the first five years of their lives, they will grow up to believe that is normal and never respect any boundaries, whether at home, at school, work or beyond.
When I was a child my parents would set boundaries to allow me the ability to explore and learn, but to remain safe. They both allowed me to make my own mistakes, and learn from them. I remember a when I was around 13 years old, and we were on summer break. My parents were working and I was roller blading with the children next door. Before my parents left that morning they told me to be careful and not get hurt as we were going to the beach for a two week holiday that weekend. Nowhere in their instructions did they say, no roller blading, no building jumps, no doing tricks, no restrictions, just don’t get hurt. So being the indestructible 13-year old I was, I built a jump out of bricks and plywood, set it at the bottom of a steep driveway and went for it. Needless to say, my 12 hours of roller blading experience didn’t stack up to my ambition. I summarily landed on the right hand and fractured my wrist. Needless to say, I spent the next two weeks of our beach holiday on the sand watching everyone else have fun in the surf. Lesson learned the hard way.
I currently have two children, a 15-year-old son, and nearly 2-year-old daughter. Both of them have different boundaries, not due to favoritism, or sex or behavioral traits, but because as we age and mature our boundaries need to grow. My two-year-old has a fairly tight boundary, she is allowed to explore most things, but she isn’t allowed to touch DVDs, nick knacks, rummage through drawers or cupboards, or play with things that aren’t hers. This is as much about teaching her that there are limits to what she is allowed to touch as it is about protection, as I am a nursing student and have all sorts of things that she could get in to.
My son, however, knows what is dangerous to touch and what isn’t, or at least I like to think so, so his boundaries are wider, and the expectation is that he himself would know what he can and cannot touch. His boundaries are now extended out to the point where he is learning when it is appropriate to use the things he is allowed to touch, like iPads, TVs, games and other distractions. We as parents don’t sit with him during his homework, we don’t do it for him, we only revise and give feedback if it is asked for. This allows my son to earn the mark he deserves, not the one I do. It also teaches him, sometimes slowly, that he needs to work before play.
The boundaries for my children will continue to shift and grow as they do. Eventually, they will be removed completely, or at least as far as they are aware, to allow them to check their compass’ alignment and decide for themselves what is good and bad, right and wrong, acceptable and not.
I still have to remind myself that my children are smart enough and strong enough to survive without a complete stranglehold on their lives. Sometimes my children tell me, painfully, when their boundaries are ready to be moved. Sometimes I move their boundaries too soon, at the detriment of their safety, their confidence or their trust. We as parents have to remember that we are still learning our craft ourselves and not to be too critical when things don’t go completely to plan. We also have to remember to set our own boundaries with our children; we are parents not friends, we are confidants, not judges, we are to support our children and build them up not tear them down or destroy their self-esteem. Most importantly we need to let them know we love them no matter what.
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