Super Granny Looks at Boundaries

Mother scolding son

“If your expectations are too high (tight boundaries), you take away a child’s sense of hope. If you have no boundaries, children feel entitled to everything. They feel the world owes them something. The opposite of entitlement is gratitude.”  Boundaries with Kids by Cloud and Townsend

Joshua and his parents were window shopping. Joshua saw his favourite ice cream parlour and asked his dad excitedly: “Can I have two scoops of ice cream PLEEEEEZ?!” Dad replied: “No Josh, it’s almost supper time, but you may have one scoop.” Mom was out of earshot so Josh made his way over to her. He sweetly asked if he could have two scoops of ice cream. “All right, only if you promise to eat all your dinner.” When they got to the store, dad ordered one scoop for Joshua and he protested, “Mom said I could have two!” Then mom and dad started fighting and mom stomped off. “Dad, it’s YOUR fault that mom’s angry!”

Nobody can make you happy, sad, angry or disappointed. These emotions are all within your boundaries. Someone else can only contribute to your happiness, not make you happy. You are responsible for how you respond or react to your emotions.

Entitled people feel:
• dissatisfied
• envious
• angry
• selfish

No child enjoys hearing the word “NO!” When you set a boundary by giving a firm No without anger, the child’s interpretation looks something like this:
• I hear no
• I protest
• I feel sad
• I learn to accept the no
• It’s OK to be sad, I can get over it
• I still have a relationship with my parents
• I suppose this is the new rule
• I’ll try something different next time (manipulation)

When you draw a limit, there will be a protest. Make sure you calmly stick to the limit. There will be more protests. When you empathise with their emotions, they eventually experience it as LOVE and this helps them to internalise the limit. This comfort, care, empathy and connection makes rage (unacceptable display of emotion) turn into sadness, grief or resolution (acceptable display of emotion). This then is internalised as unconditional love. Being CONTENT has little to do with what you possess or are allowed to do. It’s what happens in you and not what happens to you that can make a difference. (See our article on Mindful Parenting.)
However, if you lose it by ranting and raving, this is what your child thinks:
• I can’t hear the words, only shouting
• They are in a bad mood and they are taking it out on me
• They hate me, it’s all my fault
• I feel angry
• I’ll do something worse next time to get their attention

“Children learn what they live!” Dr Phil

What we need to learn so that we can teach our children is this:
• We are not responsible FOR others
• We are responsible TO others
• We cannot change what is NOT in our boundary
• We only have control over what is in OUR boundary

A boundary is like a fence around your house. Your feelings are your house. You either put up a wall, a fence or no fence at all.
1. No fence: People can step on or abuse your feelings. They don’t know where you or they start and end. People without a fence can’t say no very easily. They feel guilty. They take on too much and resent it later.
2. A wall: These people allow nothing to hurt them, but they also do not allow anything good in either because they have been hurt too often in the past.
3. A fence: These people give a clear indication to others where their boundaries are and allow people in through their own gate. This fence demarcates and clarifies the boundary. The gate can open and close, enabling them to give permission to allow people and things in to their property or not.

We have no control over what happens within other people’s boundaries. We can and should have control of what is within our boundaries.
Some of the things that we can control are our:
• Feelings
• Attitudes
• Beliefs
• Behaviours
• Choices
• Values
• Limits
• Talents
• Thoughts
• Love
• Desires

When a child has been taught healthy boundaries, he learns:
• that HE has to change, not the environment
• to give appropriate no’s without feeling guilty
• to give appropriate yes’s without having resentment
• to accept what he cannot change
• that he can’t violate other people’s boundaries
• that he cannot control others
• that he is responsible only for his own emotions not others’
• that nobody can MAKE him happy, sad, angry, bored, frustrated
• that he is in charge of his own emotions – the captain of his own ship
• that he is not the centre of the universe

The parent’s job is to:
• set clear, predictable boundaries
• allow the child to be sad, not mad
• empathise with the child’s emotions (I know you’re disappointed/sad/hurt/don’t enjoy hearing no/losing control etc.)
• enforce the consequences even though it is painful/difficult for the parent (this is not about the parent’s feelings, but about what is best for the child)
• walk away
• repeat this consistently
Once this is repeated over and over consistently, not changing because of your mood or the weather, the child learns to internalise this and it then becomes character building.

If you can respond and not react to your child’s behaviour, it will influence the way your child reacts to boundaries. Obviously he is not going to go down without a fight. No child likes to hear the word “no!” Losing control will make him very angry. But he has to learn that his choice determines his consequence so he becomes the pilot of his plane. He must always have choices!
It is our job to frustrate or limit children’s ‘greeds’ so that they can learn to distinguish between needs and greeds. They are allowed to have all their needs met as babies because they are not able to help themselves. But as they grow older, they need to experience limits, which, in turn creates tantrums. However, when they realise that they can actually survive the pain involved when not getting their way, they grow in character and move on to the next stage. When mom and dad can successfully do this consistently and without anger, the child can walk away from the situation experiencing unconditional love.

by Andalene Salvesen
Andalene is a parenting coach, parent and granny and has also been the owner and principal of a nursery school. She has co-authored a book, Raising Happy Healthy Children. She has been giving seminars and doing home visits both nationally and abroad.

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