Kids Need Boundaries
- Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Kids need boundaries. That probably doesn't surprise you, but this might: Kids want boundaries! That's right. Providing parameters for our children gives them a sense of comfort and security that nothing else can. Boundaries are the clear lines of behavior we draw within the home that children know they are not to cross.
In this sense, the parenting process is as much an organizational task as anything else in life. Organizing the boundaries we will place in our homes is an essential building block to raising successful kids.
I talk with parents all the time who are frustrated with the level of cooperation they get from their kids, even in things as common as doing chores or disrespectful attitudes. My first question is this: "What boundaries have you set for acceptable behavior?" In other words, I want to know whether the child has been given a standard to follow, or if they constantly have to guess what the acceptable behavior should be.
The Danger of Moving Boundaries
One mistake that parents often make is allowing inconsistent boundaries. If a football player never knew where the boundaries were, he would get frustrated when one time he's called for being out of bounds and another time he's allowed to run completely off the field. There would be no way to measure success.
In the same way, all parents are guilty at times of similar inconsistencies. Sometimes we allow for almost complete freedom, and then other times we hold high expectations for behavior. This creates a real challenge for kids, because they can never be sure exactly which standard he or she must adhere to for the moment.
An example of this is parent's expectations during mealtimes. When we allow kids to grab bites as they run around the dinner table at home, why should we be surprised when they don't want to sit in a high chair at a restaurant?
The Freedom Boundaries Bring!
There is a common misconception that setting forth clear boundaries for kids is too strict or stringent. I would adamantly disagree. When kids are given a clear outline of behavior that's acceptable and behavior that is not, it gives them the freedom to move within those boundaries without constantly guessing what behavior will bring disciplinary action.
Children who are disciplined live with security and freedom that undisciplined kids will never enjoy. With these foundational principles in mind, here are three steps that every parent can take to help kids understand the boundaries in your home:
(1.) Establish clear standards of behavior. All too often, parents simply tell kids to "be a good boy" without clearly defining what that would mean in a given situation. Set up some clear parameters that show how behavior would dictate this order. Using the restaurant example again, acceptable behavior for a young child might mean sitting still at the table during the meal, not playing with the food, and talking in a quiet voice. These are all very clear, attainable goals.
(2.) Use "What-if" scenarios to apply to future situations. You don't have to wait for tough situation to deal with difficult scenarios. In fact, it is far easier to address them beforehand. With the earlier example, going over some questions with children before eating in the restaurant could certainly help. At this point, the parent can even make it fun! "When we get to the restaurant, would it be okay if Daddy gets up and runs around the table screaming? What would happen if he did that?" These steps work for kids of any age, by the way. For older kids, the "what-if" questions just change: "If you are riding in a car with some friends, and the driver stops at a convenience store and buys beer for everyone, how will you handle the situation?"
(3.) Move from "Moses" to "Micah." The Israelites had all sorts of laws during the time of Moses. God had laid out a very detailed plan for His people to follow, because that was the first way they could know exactly what they were to do. At times, though, the law must have been overwhelming to God's followers. Later in the Old Testament, Micah sums up God's laws for the people in one simple sentence: "And what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8, NKJV)
This transition not only profoundly simplified God's law, but also made an important adjustment in the lives of the Israelites. The command moved from the law to the lesson behind that law. The new command was principle-based rather than action-based. This allowed it to cover every area of life. This is also an important transition for parents to make.
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