(I think this post has a very uniquely American message, so I apologize if it does not resonate with my international readers as much today.)
Connection between the parent and the child is a huge help regarding discipline and boundaries because that connection IS the basis of all guiding. Connection helps us really know our children and helps us get what makes them “them”; what really motivates them. That is a big help in discipline and guiding and shaping behavior! It also helps that when we are connected to our children that our children really know us intimately too! These children have an incredible feeling of being a vital part of the family, which actually can be a powerful tool: to be a part of a culture and to have intimately seen and known the rules within that family culture are vital and important.
However, here is my beef! If you are a parent and you have structured everything so there is no conflict, your child never hears “no” (and yes, just plain “no”, not a couched “no” with twenty words surrounding the “no”), if you never try to balance your child’s “likes” and “dislikes” or uplift your child to the next level, are always swooping in to rescue your child, well….. I just think you are wrong. Plain, dead, worrisome wrong.
Because I worry about children who never hear “no”.
I worry about children whose lives are so perfectly orchestrated that there are never any tears of frustration. I worry about their future flexibility and resiliency.
I worry about children who count on their parents to buffer them from other adults and other children.
I worry about children who have no boundaries in their own homes – bedtimes, nap times, mealtimes, whose things belong to the parent and can’t be taken and played with, how we treat one another.
I worry about children who never have to follow through on the consequences of doing something wrong, especially for those children aged nine and up. And yes, my friends, sometimes children do things that are just plain wrong. They are learning, just like us.
I worry about children who cannot seem to accept authority from other adults.
I think in America it seems as if the pendulum has tottered from the inherent natural boundaries of the farm, hard work, the rugged individual to lives of relative ease where parents work so hard to provide everything for their children their children have nothing real to cut their teeth on, including boundaries.
Sometimes I do think the larger issue is not that parents don’t necessarily think boundaries are important, but they worry they are being too “authoritarian” and they don’t know HOW to set boundaries. It seems to me the way we try to set boundaries in our society is to talk our children to death, to treat them as miniature adults with less experience (so therefore if we talk to them more they will “get it”). Yet, we know there are clear developmental stages for a child, and clear points of neurologic maturation. We can see this from biologic studies of the brain, we can see this from the work of Rudolf Steiner, we can see this from the Gesell Institute and we can see this from Piaget.
So, the question becomes: how do we set boundaries in a calm way without treating our children like miniature adults?
Here are a few of my suggestions; take what resonates with you!
1. FOR THOSE WHO HAVE CHILDREN OF ALL AGES: You are the authority in your home; accept the fact that being a parent means that you should be and are the LOVING authority. Step up and be the parent! Recognize the importance of boundaries!
2. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES: Get your own “stuff” together so you can be a model for your children. Come to grips with your own feelings about authority, about boundaries and get really clear about it. Is anything okay so long as it doesn’t hurt someone else? What are your ethical and moral lines? It is hard to pass these values onto your children if you don’t know this about yourself!
3. FOR THOSE WITH CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF FOURTEEN: Part of being that loving authority means you set the tone, you set the rhythm of the day, you decide the activities for a small child. Yes, of course as your child hits past the nine year change and into the teen years there is more room for partnership – but children ages 9-14 still need a really firm and steady hand!
4. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH TINY CHILDREN ESPECIALLY: You don’t have to talk, talk, talk every decision and every thing to death out loud in front of the oh- so- tiny child so he or she can listen to your back- and- forth thought process. Stop talking! Your out-loud thought process actually, in my observation of many families, does not teach a future ten or twelve year old the decision making process – it teaches them to talk others to death and to feel they can and should comment on every little thing within the life of the family! (And yes, I know this is completely counter to everything one reads in those popular American parenting magazines and books. If you would like an alternative to those ideas, try
5. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH TINY CHILDREN ESPECIALLY: To continue on the above train of thought….. To that end, I have to say I am not a fan of talking endlessly to children during everyday tasks. I guess that might just be me, but I really cringe when I hear parents talking their tiny child up and down whilst changing a diaper or bathing. I can understand this a bit more in a daycare kind of setting, but at home I truly value silence. Singing, a warm smile and humming is also especially nice! Look into your child’s eyes and love them. Enjoy your children as children, not some sort of project you must develop and get right!
You can see this post if you would like to challenge yourself to stop talking so much to tiny children, who really don’t need the burden: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/04/14/stop-talking/ .
6. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES, with a special note for those aged nine and above: Keep a strong rhythm, lots of work, and plenty of outside time. Sports and other activities can play a place in the life of those nine and up. Last week, I watched two nine and ten year olds in our homeschool group race the heck out of each other at the pool. Nine and ten year olds want to have something to do, they are interested in the world, and many of them do like to compete. It doesn’t mean that you have to go crazy and be gone hours each day from your home, that is not balance, but the nine and ten year olds (and up!) do have energy – so get them outside, introduce them to the world in the ways you deem best!
7. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN AGES 7-14: Authority is most important at this age. Surround your child with people who are kind, loving, warm and friendly, but who also set boundaries for children. This includes teachers, coaches, people at your place of worship. If setting boundaries is hard for you, you not only have to work at it, but also be careful you are not gravitating toward getting your child involved with other trusted adults who don’t know how to set boundaries. Boundaries need to come from the world too.
8. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES, BUT ESPECIALLY THE NINE YEAR CHANGE AND UP: Set the stage by providing boundaries and clear ways of restitution from the time your children are preschool-aged. A four year old can learn to trade a toy to a smaller sibling without snatching what they want out of the toddler’s hand. A six- year- old can draw a picture for a little brother or sister whose toy was broken or for being completely rude to mamma. My cardinal rule for those six and up is that we don’t take rude and ugly out into the world for play dates or activities. We keep rude and ugly acting at home until we feel better. Being kind to family members is the most important part of life and the first grounds for learning how to communicate with others. It is important to follow through every time with children, so get your perseverance on!
9. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH TEENAGERS: I don’t have teenagers yet, so I am hesitant to say too much, but I have a lot of friends with teenagers. All of them have referred to the teenaged years as “second toddlerhood” in so many ways, especially for those who are involved with dating. In a time that one traditionally thinks would be a more independent period, it seems as if it can involve lots of driving, following up on things for teens in school, and being vigilant with the friends and the dating scene. Mothers of teens, comment below! I would love to hear how you handle boundaries with your teens!
10. FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES: Keep connecting, keep space and time open to listen and love your children. Hug them daily, love them.
Many blessings and much love to all,