Why the need to set “boundaries”? What does this really mean? Tarryn Vieira, a Clinical Psychologist, discusses this important topic.
A boundary is like a property line. If we know where someone’s boundary is, we know what we can expect them to be responsible for. From the perspective of a parent, a boundary means the line that you draw around yourself to define where you end and where your child begins. Drawing this line is no easy task. Children are the very definition of boundary-pushers! It’s in their nature to test us and to see how far they can go. This is how they learn about themselves and the world.
Why are Boundaries Important?
If we want our children to have healthy, successful relationships; boundaries are the key.
Without knowing what the world expects of them, it is difficult for children to learn how to live up to these expectations. Not understanding boundaries (their own and others), can lead to confusion and a lack of self-control – trying to control others while being out of control themselves. These boundary patterns get carried into adult life where the risks are much greater. Rather than losing privileges as a child, they may face losing a career or a relationship as an adult. Unfortunately, no one is born with boundaries. Our job as parents is to help our children develop boundaries, by what we model to them from our relationships and discipline.
How to Model Healthy Boundaries
Helping our children internalize boundaries is about giving them experiences of boundaries in action, rather than teaching them boundaries. This includes experiencing other’s boundaries, receiving consequences for their behaviour, and taking ownership of their choices. Children learn to become more responsible when we expect responsibility from them.
Children are very keen observers so… what we do, has more of an impact on them than what we say. In order for children to learn how to respond to limits, their parents need to have healthy boundaries.
Creating boundaries starts with:
- Defining your own boundaries – what you value and where you stand.
- Making your boundaries clear – your expectations of your child and the consequences of not respecting these boundaries.
- Consistency – feeling the effect of crossing a boundary is essential for making boundaries part of your child’s world.
- Choices are important, they need to be held accountable for the choices they make.
- Modelling how to handle boundary crossings – own up and apologize for crossing another’s boundary.
Children whose parents set clear boundaries and interact with their children in ways that help them learn their own boundaries, develop a clear sense of who they are and what they are responsible for. This gives them the freedom to make their own choices about things they can control like their feelings, attitudes and behaviour. They develop the understanding that if they make wise choices, things will go well, while if they make poor choices, there are likely to be negative consequences.
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