Hello everyone! Thank you for joining me today. On today’s episode we will talk about kids crave boundaries. That’s right, believe it or not: kids want boundaries; they want routines; they absolutely thrive within the limits that are set for them.
The example I like to tell about this is about cows. When I have more time, I would actually like to go observe cows and see if this really happens. But I’ve been told that when cows are within the fenced in limits, they graze a little and then go up to the fence and lean against the fence, and see if there’s any weakness in the fence and if there’s not, they’ll just keep on going about their day and get to another part of the fence and kind of leaning their body against the fence to see if there’s any kind of weakness. And they like to test out every single part of the fence. Once they’ve tested out the fence and they realize there are no weaknesses, they don’t go near the fence again to test it out.
I just love that little thought when it is compared to kids also needing boundaries. Your child will test every single part of that boundary to make sure that it is strong and firm and clear, and hopefully, after a time, they will stop testing that certain boundary (and perhaps move onto another boundary to test…they’re always testing, right?)
One of your many jobs as a parent is to take a small person who is helpless and dependent and over time produce an adult who can make great choices and decisions. Now this doesn’t always happen, and this doesn’t mean that you’re an unsuccessful parent in any way. Our children definitely have their own free will, but teaching boundaries will help. And it really is something that they want; that they crave.
When I’m coaching moms about this I always tell them it will get worse before it gets better, especially if your kids aren’t used to having a whole lot of firm boundaries placed around them. They’ll probably kick and scream, and whine and moan, but this is all part of the process. It’s to help them grow and develop and become a person with a strong sense of themselves.
Creating these boundaries for your kids will require you to be a firm parent. You will even probably be disliked sometimes. Something funny I always tell my clients, “if your child screams ‘I hate you’ once in a while, you know you’re doing a good job.” Betty Davis said, “If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.” Just make sure when that happens, you don’t make it mean it’s about you. That’s just about them and how they’re choosing to deal with what you are trying to do. But it’s not about you. It doesn’t really mean that they hate you; it doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. Like I said, you’re actually doing things right. You’re showing them that you are the parent. That you have these things set for your child because you love them. And you’re even going to give them the reason behind a lot of the boundaries so that they know it’s for their own growth and development and even their safety.
One of my clients said to me, “I just don’t want to be looked at like a mean mom all the time.” And actually that’s not what I want for you either, and that’s not even what I want you to take from this is that you need to go be a mean, demanding, authoritarian mom. But when you start this process you definitely will feel like you are being such a strict stickler as you’re fighting all of these battles. But the point isn’t just to be this authoritarian, mean mom, that’s not what I want for you. The point is to have peace and happiness and enjoyment in your home with your children who respect you and do as you ask. Like I said, it will get worse before it gets better, but it will get better; it will get better than it’s ever been. Just don’t be afraid to set up those boundaries.
I taught preschool in my home for 18 years. I absolutely loved it. It was one of the most favorite things I’ve ever done in my life. But it was funny because the first month of preschool I absolutely hated it every year. Every year my husband, or my sister would have to talk me off my ledge when I was questioning my whole career choice. That training period was really, really tough on me and I’m sure it was tough on the kids too. But I kept getting these texts and phone calls from moms the first week, every year: “My child loves preschool, they ask me every day if they can come back, they love it so much, so thank you for what you’re doing.” And then my own kids would just laugh about it because they have witnessed me trying to train these kids in my home for that first month, and I was a stickler. The rule is they can’t speak out without raising their hand first. I was trying to train them to go to kindergarten the next year so I had to be really strict about that. When you have these four-year-olds who have never been told before whether or not they can speak, or when they’re allowed to speak, so for them to be asked to raise their hand before just talking it’s really hard on them. Of course, they’re (out of habit) just talking out and when you have 12 preschoolers talking out that just won’t work; you can’t teach them you can’t get anywhere. So that first month, if they spoke out without raising their hand I would stop and remind, “Oh, if you want to talk raise your hand,” with everything: “you went potty, did you wash your hands?” “I didn’t hear the toilet flush.” “We don’t touch our friends.” “Make sure to keep your hands to yourself.” And I just was all over them about everything. I made the rules very clear at the beginning and then I was all over them. And my kids would just say, “I can’t believe they even like her.” But that’s what I’m talking about, moms, they want that. Those kids couldn’t wait to come back. They knew exactly what Miss Heather expected of them. It was made very clear and they knew that she was going to make sure it happened. And after a month, I’m not kidding, after a month I got to ease up. It was so fun with these kids. I could teach them anything because nobody was talking out without raising their hand, everyone was sitting crisscross applesauce hands in lap, nobody was touching each other, nobody was being mean to each other, and it just ended up being a great, safe environment for them and a perfect place for me to be able to teach them what they needed to learn.
Kids crave boundaries because they want your approval. They want to know how you want them to behave and perform in such a way so that they win your approval. In a home where the boundaries aren’t sure and the rules don’t exist or are inconsistent, they never know where that line is until they’ve crossed it and mom has completely blown up at them.
Just think about it, how hard would it be to please someone and never upset someone if you were never sure of the clear guidelines that they wanted you to follow? So we’re actually doing our kids a favor. They want your approval; they also want a happy home; they want mom to be happy; they want their siblings to like them; they want to know that the choices they’re making are okay by you and that you’re pleased with them.
A well-known study published in the journal of family psychology showed that families with established boundaries and routines experienced greater overall emotional health. They had children with a stronger sense of self, and it even allowed the couples to enjoy happier marriages. Those are some great results for the work it’s going to take to set those boundaries.
And it definitely is going to be work. The real work isn’t necessarily in setting up the boundaries, but in seeing them through, and being consistent. And your kids also want to know that you’re in charge. It might seem to you at times that they want to be in charge because maybe they are in charge, but that’s not really what they want. Once I put a meme on my Facebook page that said, “I’m being ruled by an army of tiny humans that I have created myself.” Isn’t that so true sometimes?
I have a client whose kids spend time at their dad’s house once in a while and when they come home sometimes express how happy they are that they’re back at mom’s house because they know that she’s got this now, that she will make sure the little ones are behaving and the older ones don’t have to parent them anymore. And they’re able to go back into their role of just being a kid. So kids really do want to feel like you are in charge.
Okay now, just real quick before we end, I’m going to tell you the three ways that you can start setting up your boundaries for your kids.
Number one: there is great value in clear expectation. Make your expectations crystal clear. You want them to know what to expect and how to please you.
Number two: when you’re setting up these boundaries and routines, they need to be consistent. So maybe the problem that you’re having is that you’re just tired of the complaining during dinner time and it’s making it so that you can’t enjoy eating your own dinner with the family. The boundary you set up might be something like, “Okay when you come to dinner tonight be sure not to complain at all; no bad attitudes; don’t complain about your food. And if you do this well you get to stay up an extra 30 minutes.” And of course as children do love to test those boundaries, your child might come to dinner and do a little bit of complaining. So right then and there you say, “Okay you still need to eat your dinner but now you won’t get to stay up the extra 30 minutes.” And there might be huge fit that happens, but you still make sure that they eat their dinner and you need to make sure to watch that clock. So many times we say this at dinner and then the night kind of gets away from us and we forget to watch that clock. And all of a sudden, our child has stayed up 45 minutes later than the said time, and they didn’t even earn it. We want to make sure to be very consistent with the consequence that we give. Lack of consistency will cause the very thing we are trying to avoid which is chaos and confusion for the child.
And Number three: boundaries must have consequences. I kind of gave you an example of this is in number two when I was talking about being consistent, but if you want to know more about how to set up consequences, what consequences look like, or different ideas of consequences that you could set, go ahead and find my earlier podcast I put out it’s about my “3 C’s of Successful Parenting.”
Moms, creating boundaries is worth it. If you have a tough five-year-old who is fighting you on every expectation and boundary that you try to make, what do you think might happen when he’s 15? Kids need to know who’s in charge and that it’s not them. One of my podcasts coming up is called, “Choose your battles and win,” so we’ll talk more about that part of it.
So just remember, next time you are faced with the decision to enforce a boundary or let her behavior slip by, I get it you’ve had a long day you’re tired and overwhelmed and it’s just easier to not have to deal with every single little thing, but I urge you to think twice about taking the easier or softer road. Boundaries are hard and require effort, but in the long run they will provide everyone in your family and even and especially you, the structure needed to thrive and grow.
Okay moms, I hope you have a great rest of your day and I’ll talk to you next week.
If you would like to learn more about The Mommy Whisperer or would like to sign up for a free mini coaching call with me, please head on over to my website at The-MommyWhisperer.com.