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We all want what’s best for our children, wishing for them to grow into happy and well-adjusted adults. We try our best to teach children the right values, communicate standards on how to behave as well as how to treat other people. In order to achieve that, it is essential to set healthy boundaries and teach our children to respect them. 

Our children need boundaries. They want stability. You have probably experienced the following situation before – you are reading their favorite bedtime story and try to skip some part of it. Your child will be fast to let you know that part of the story is missing, they will point out if you change any details, might even fill it in for you and make sure the story is the same as always. Boundaries make a child’s life simple and predictable which allows him or her to feel safe.

Children raised with no boundaries can grow egoistic, not used to order and unable to organise themselves. As adults they can struggle to form healthy relationships, be lonely, are more likely be bullied and have difficulties adjusting at school or at their workplace. 

On the other hand, if there are too many boundaries in a child’s life it can damage the relationship between you and the child as they tend to get resentful and angry. Children experiencing boundaries that are overly strict may have low self-esteem which leads to becoming aggressive or even too passive. Not to mention being stern sets a bad example – go after what you want no matter the cost or what other people feel.

So how do we reach the golden mean?

Boundaries should be flexible

Not all activities should be treated equal – some may require boundaries that are more strict or looser than others. It is easiest to picture them in 4 different categories: green, yellow, orange and red.

Green – absolute freedom. These are activities children can decide about for themselves. It could be which toys to play with, what to draw, when they start school – which extracurricular activities to participate in. Parents should decide which activities fall into this group, there probably not going to be many.

Yellow – relative freedom: children may be allowed to play outside and choose the games they prefer to play as long they do not leave the yard; they can use scissors as long as it is done under supervision; it is ok to jump in and splash in the puddles if they are wearing waterproof shoes. When it comes to activities from this group it should be clear for the children what is left for them to decide.

Orange – things we usually do not allow but can make exceptions for: it is not ok to stay up after 10 p.m. but if the children are waiting for their dad coming back home from a trip, bedtime can be postponed a little; children sleep in their beds at night but if they have a bad dream it is ok to come sleep with the parents that night.

Red – not allowed under any circumstances. Usually these are the boundaries concerning child’s safety: it is never allowed to play with matches or to run into the street.

Parents should decide which activities fall into which group and be as consistent as possible. It should also be kept in mind that these categories should be changing over time giving children more and more freedom as they grow.

In the second part of the blog we shall continue to talk about other things to be taken into consideration when setting boundaries for young children so they can grow feeling safe and secure.

References:

Gippenreiter, J., (2018) Bendrauti su vaiku. Kaip?  Ramduva

Ugnė Labutytė is a student at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania and works as an intern at Willingness Hub.