Has anyone ever said something like, “Your kids need more boundaries!” – and you’ve wondered if they’re right?
Or maybe you’ve sat at the kitchen table, with the children running around chasing each other, and you’ve wondered yourself; “Maybe I should be cracking down. Maybe I should have more boundaries.”
If you’re really not sure where to start with that, or whether that’s even the right approach, this blog is going to help.
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
So, is it true that if things are a bit chaotic – a bit turbulent – the main thing you need is more boundaries?
Well, firstly, what is meant by ‘more boundaries’?
Usually what’s meant is that you need to be more strict.
And if more strictness is what’s meant with ‘more boundaries’ my answer is no. Strictness is unlikely to be the main thing that you need, or in fact not what you need at all.
Well, one reason is that children always reflect their experience back to us in some way.
- If we get cross and feelings are raised – we’re likely to see hot tempers in them too.
- If we start saying ‘no’ more – we’re going to hear more ‘no’s from our children.
- If we start being very rigid with rules, we’re going to get rigidity back from them. This will look like defiance or digging their heels in.
- If we start doing a lot of explaining to children why certain behaviour isn’t wanted or isn’t a good idea, children will find that frustrating… If kids get frustrated, they’ll find a way to make us frustrated, too!
So I don’t recommend ‘more boundaries’ in the sense I’ve described here.
But I would recommend what I call ‘healthy boundaries’.
So what are healthy boundaries?
It’s about creating predictability. Healthy boundaries, in my view, are about creating a container for your family, so that family life can evolve predictably and safely.
Boundaries start with the simple things that you’re already doing, like creating meals, having a routine to your day or your week. And the more this routine can be predictable, like having a family walk on the weekend, or family film nights – things that recur every day or every week in the same or similar way – the more this creates a sense of containment in the family.
With these kinds of structures in place, everyone knows where they are. They know what’s coming and they can feel prepared for it when it happens. It’s reassuring, and this really creates a lot of safety. And we need a lot of safety these days – we need a lot of predictability in these times which are so very unpredictable.
The other aspect to healthy boundaries is around setting a limit to, or containing, behaviours that are harmful or dangerous – behaviours we don’t want our children to continue with. This is the more traditional aspect to boundaries.
But here’s the difference. Healthy boundaries are not about saying ‘no’ more, being rigid with rules, getting cross or doing a lot of explaining. Healthy boundaries don’t actually require emotional energy at all. They’re just something that you do, like bringing a child out of the pool if they’ve been in long enough and are starting to shiver.
Healthy boundaries have an energy which is very neutral, almost detached.
Here’s an example of setting a healthy boundary that happened in my life. Last week I told you about a morning when I lost my cool with my son, and then decided I would be chilled about his tendency to be lastminute.com. (Check out last week’s blog post if you haven’t seen it already.)
On the day after that, I was sitting in the car waiting to take him to the train station, thinking, “Well, he really is cutting it quite fine this time.”
So finally he came, coffee in hand, and we drove to the station. It really was quite last minute, which I commented on. However we were both totally relaxed.
When we got to the station, he was leaning into the car, having sips of coffee as he was taking his bags out to get the train. But on one of these occasions when he leant into the car to have another sip, there was that tell-tale sound of the train coming into the station.
Unfortunately, the train leaves from the other side of the station. There was no way that he was going to be able to reach the platform in time. That’s when he realised he’d missed the train.
So, what happened then?
Well, he was a bit crestfallen. I said, “I’m not going to take you to school.” (Just to let you know, this was an established agreement between us and not suddenly out of the blue. He knows that if he misses the train because he’s late, I’m not going to take him.)
He got quite cross, saying, “You could take me, but you just don’t want to!” and I said, “Yes, I could take you, but I don’t want to.”
This is an example of a boundary that I chose to set. There wasn’t any emotional energy attached to it. I was quite detached – not cross – it was just that I knew that I didn’t want to set up that pattern of rescuing him from this situation. That was my decision. It was all quite amicable on my behalf, but, understandably, he was quite cross because he would rather I’d just turned around and driven him to school.
There were no other trains so he had to get a taxi, that he paid for, and that was that. And the next day, he came down to breakfast with 10 minutes in hand. I didn’t ask him to, it just happened. And that’s the magic of setting boundaries that are healthy, and that don’t have emotional energy in them.
But here’s the thing – you only need to set boundaries in this way every so often.
Boundary setting for behaviours you don’t want is like salt in your soup. You just need a little bit!
If you’d like to learn more about how containment fits into all my other strategies, you can download my free guide below, Solve the Struggle with Your Kids. You’ll get a few more tips and ideas of how you can bring boundaries in this very healthy and supportive way to create more calm in your family.
Solve the Struggle with Your Kids
The 6 Wise Parenting Powers
Download my no cost guide to raising a secure and happy family.