Of course, that’s not all that they need, I’m all for balance. (See previous article) But boundaries are important. I will elaborate on the subject, read on if you happen to be overwhelmed by the little ones…😊
The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering – Benjamin Spock –
Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
I’ve had some interesting seminars about children over the course of my teaching career. A couple of them stand out, perhaps because I’m interested in the psychological and social aspects of our natures. And because I was surprised at their conclusions. Neither one coincided with many of our current beliefs.
In one workshop, a school psychologist addressed the gap between certain ideals versus what children needed. He explained that we let utopian ideas cloud our vision and that too often, we throw out old practices in favor of new ones. Project-based learning was in full swing, but he argued that we should not abandon certain didactic practices just because they were considered outdated. Conventional teaching—one teacher speaking and all the children listening—was still very significant. At the elementary level, he argued that children needed strong, caring leaders to show the way and that children are rarely equipped to decide on how and what they need to learn.
In another talk, a different specialist claimed that we should not allow children to make too many decisions for themselves. Doing so, he explained, puts the burden of choice on the child and makes them feel insecure. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I immediately made the connection with my dog. She was not even a year old and I had just read a book on dog training which came to the same conclusion. When dogs misbehave, it’s often out of a feeling of insecurity. If their master does not act towards them in an assertive way, they assume that they must become the dominant one. They get anxious in their need to prove themselves to their owners, which creates a lot of problems.
My experiences with children (and my dog!) have shown me the value of these concepts. I don’t believe that we should be making all the decisions for the children in our care. Deciding for themselves makes them feel important. But when this sense of importance makes them crave attention, misbehave or become overanxious, that can be a sign that they need the security of a strong adult telling them what they need to do. Setting limits because boundaries are reassuring.
Slowly but Surely
If you want to tighten the boundaries, it should be done little by little, because they will react! Then, in later years, when we feel like the child is happy, responsible and ready for a challenge, we loosen the borders of those boundaries. It’s not always easy to determine when and how to give them more choices, more responsibilities, it’s a balancing act. And all children are different. One child’s needs might be very different from another’s. Establishing boundaries doesn’t mean we don’t encourage them to think for themselves. We can share information with young people and help them make observations. We can discuss and explore what interests them, what troubles them. But they need rules to help them grow into happy, balanced people. Rules around behavior, respect, healthy habits, limited screen time, and their responsibilities towards others.
And how about what parents and caregivers need? An overwhelmed parent is not in a position—the position of authority—to effectively raise children. Implementing rules—and being consistent with the consequences should they disrespect them—takes some effort and discipline at first. But it is time well invested. Another thing: we don’t always have to hover around our children. Yes, our children need to be guided, mainly with positive reinforcement. They require care and affection and need to be listened to. Within limits. The adult is entitled to some alone time, even when the child is near. Whatever happened to sending kids outside to play in the yard? It feels like I hardly see that anymore. It makes for healthy and creative play. I have a feeling that screen time has replaced outdoor time when Mom or Dad needs a breather, but it’s not a healthy habit. (I recommend you read this article.) At the very least, make your child earn screen time by spending time outdoors: If they want to watch Youtube or play video games for an hour, have them play outside for an hour first.
As society evolves, we are learning so much about raising children. I wouldn’t want us to go back to attitudes of previous generations where children were too often ignored and undervalued. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and we are placing too much pressure on them by giving them freedoms and choices that they are not yet equipped to handle. They’re going to have enough pressure and challenges as they get older in this changing world, let’s give them a break for now…