This last month our family spent some time in North Carolina. We love many things about being in the mountains: the fresh air, the trees, the rivers and creeks, and hiking. We usually spend several days exploring trails that lead us to amazing finds like gorgeous mountain tops and waterfalls. My two, like their dad, are explorers at heart. They spend hours by the creek where we stay finding salamanders, building forts and observing other wildlife. They love to wander “off the beaten path.”
As we were hiking through a nearby national forest, I started noticing signs. “Please stay on the trail” or “Please do not climb on the rocks near the waterfall.” Was this to kill our fun or squelch our adventuring spirit? No! It was to keep us, those around us and the environment safe. There were many signs telling us not to feed the animals. Again, with bear in the woods this was for our own protection. These were boundaries to keep us and the nature around us safe.
It almost seems that in today’s culture of broken glass ceilings and limitless possibilities, the thought of placing boundaries around our children is negative. Shouldn’t they be free to do, be whoever they choose?
The protection of boundaries
When teaching parents, I use the illustration of a fish in a bowl. I keep a gold fish in a glass bowl next to me when I am talking. The goldfish has the boundary of a bowl around him. For some that may seem sad, maybe he would like to explore the room… I take a net and pull him out of the bowl to let him begin to explore. I, then of course, put him back into his bowl to illustrate that this boundary is actually life giving to him. To remove these boundaries will cause him to die.
Another illustration I give parents is that of a basketball court. If there weren’t the boundaries of the court or the rules of the game, it would dissolve into chaos and no longer be fun. It is the same with raising our children.
Children actually need boundaries to feel secure. We have mentioned this many times, but it is worth repeating! They need to have boundaries in their lives, house rules, bed times, curfews etc. There need to be things that our children learn, that are nonnegotiable. (I’m pretty sure my children would both attempt to survive completely on candy if left to their own devices)
Boundaries set children up for success
We set our children up for success when we teach them the boundary of respect. There are things we do not say to others, we treat them with kindness. There are things we do not say to adults or those in authority; we treat them with respect. These boundaries are key to our children being marriageable and employable in the future.
One thing we do need to remember as parents, however, is as they learn, our kids will push up against those boundaries. A toddler will not like that boundary of bedtime. That’s ok and to be expected! It is our job, because we know that their little bodies need a certain amount of sleep to thrive, to protect that boundary. Meaning, if their bedtime is 8 p.m., we don’t give into whining or crying to stay up past that bedtime. As our children grow, we teach them the boundary of respecting authority by not allowing them to speak to us or other adults disrespectfully. We are teaching and training them to respect a boss one day.
Just like the trails in the mountains keep us safe and from getting lost, teaching our children that placing boundaries in their lives is important. It will keep them safe in adulthood. Your child learning to say no to something because it may not be the best thing for them, could be one of the most powerful things you teach them.
Visit parentingonpurpose.org for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts.
For more articles by Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-bob-barnes-and-torrey-roberts/