When we prioritise our kids’ freedoms and overlook their crucial need to feel like their parents are in charge and “at the wheel” – we are letting them down.
Too much freedom actually makes our children feel the opposite of free; and they often express their discomfort through limit-pushing behaviour.
Boundaries are essential for our kids, and they are essential for parents, who are overwhelmed and exhausted and wondering if it’s meant to be THIS hard.
As an educator working with parents around creating a secure attachment with babies and kids, and as a mum of four beautiful boys, I believe that boundaries are one of the highest forms of love there is.
So how do you set a boundary?
So let’s say your child is at a boundary moment. They are swinging from the rafters, throwing a toy, or hitting or hurting. This isn’t working for you; it is hurting someone or is unsafe.
Here’s what to do in three steps:
1. Regulate YOU
Stop and take a second to regulate.
We can’t set an effective limit when we are unregulated and boundary-pushing behaviour (toddler hitting the baby) is really triggering for us, so before you overreact, stop and breathe.
Be aware, be conscious, and then step in with confidence.
2. Step in, set the limit and hold it.
“I can’t let you hit me” (holding your child’s arms if you need to) or looking them square in the eye with confidence, “I need you to get down from the rafters now”.
If your child isn’t responding you are calmly helping them down.
We need to view this step as kind, we are actually helping our kids at a moment they are demonstrating they need us.
This step is 99% in the body language – you need to believe they are going to listen, get in low and close and even whisper it like you mean it.
Be the calm and confident leader your child needs.
3. Be with your child as the emotions overflow
This is the bit we are trying to avoid by not setting the limit: the meltdown.
The chances are if you set a boundary your child is going to get upset. Your job is not to solve this, fix it, or make them feel better. Your job is simply to be there.
This is the “I know” in Dr Vanessa’s sentence builder, after the “No more cookies”…. You pause and add, “I know, you really wanted more”.
This last part is actually the hardest bit by far; it is so hard to see our kids are sad. Being with them without making it better is a struggle but it’s important to ride that wave of emotion till it hits the shore. Making sure our children know boundaries is one of the highest forms of love there is.