Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Owning your boundaries.

(Goblin is 31 months)
I'm guessing most parents of toddlers are in the same boat as me - its that interesting age when you rejoice in your child's development of personality and individuality but at the same time dispair that it takes three times as long to get them dressed because suddenly they have an opinion about what colour socks they want to wear. 

Its a time when you have to start deciding what battles you are going to have and where you are going to lay the boundaries so you can co-exist in harmony. Thinking on this issue recently has made me focus on how others parent. And I have spotted a frequently used technique that I don't like, but I realise I can slip into inadvertently. I call it "pass the buck" parenting - when you set a boundary using an external factor as the reason. 

I found myself in the swimming pool the other day saying "Goblin don't run or the life guard will tell you off". Now while this is probably true what I should be saying is "Goblin, Walk, don't run, the floor is wet and you might slip". Two seconds later a toddler smacked down right infront of us as if to helpfully illustrate the point.

Hear are three more examples of "pass the buck" parenting I overheard recently:
  • "Johnny, don't throw gravel or the park ranger will tell you off"
  • "Johnny the farmer won't let you ride the tractor without your sun hat on"
  • "Johnny if you don't eat your dinner I will tell your father and he will tell you off when he gets home"
I understand the temptation to use this technique (and have done so myself). There is a certain logic that says, if my child won't listen to me and my boundaries I'll tell them its someone else's rule. And also, I don't want to always be seen as the bad guy laying down rules, so I will blame it on someone else. 

But here is why I don't like it. 

  • In some cases its blatantly lying to your child - like telling them they can't go on a tractor ride without a hat on. 
  • It makes it sound like you'd be OK with the action if the rule wasn't there. 
  • You fail to give your child the real and sometimes important information about why they need to do or not do something. For example - Don't throw gravel because its dangerous and someone might get hurt.
  • And you make someone else out as a baddie. When that person is the child's other parent its simply unfair to the other parent. And when its a stranger, you are suggesting to your child that you will be OK with a complete stranger telling your child off.

So when setting boundaries with Goblin I am trying hard to own them. My logic is that I am less likely to set arbitrary boundaries if I have to give a valid reason for having them. And hopefully if I own my rules and clearly explain their rationale, Goblin is more likely to stick to them. 

I should point out that I still think that a valid reason includes "Because that makes me feel uncomfortable, scared or angry". It is easy to forget that your feelings count too, but if you are unhappy with an activity or action your child is doing it is harder to have an open and happy relationship with them. So setting a boundary based on how an action will make you feel is in my opinion completely valid. 

How do you set your boundaries, and do you own them?


  1. What a great point! I've always felt if you aren't honest or explain why, a child will not understand instead of temporarily stopping them because of a threat!

    1. yep and it fits much better with the idea that you are helping a child to develop the mental capacity to make good decisions for themselves

  2. I'm an explainer. I probably give WAY too much information about proper behavior. I definitely own them! However, if there is a rule in place I don't understand, I'll say that too. I DON'T know everything, gasp, and think it's ok that my child knows it. Since I work at the library, I hear a lot of parent's using "the Librarian" as the baddie. In this case, it is probably true though, I have the the authority to ban anyone from the library.

    1. Yeah if there is an external rule that you don't understand but have to follow anyway then its not your boundary to own. So I'd be with you in saying, "Don't know why thats the rule but it is so we better follow it".

  3. We are just entering this phase! My aim is to set boundaries, be truthful but if possible to try to offer a postive option. I know it'll be a challenge some days.
    Today my daughter (17mths) thought it would be a good idea to throw/cover the dog with leaves/dirt. I did the simple explanation about why that isn't a kind thing to do and then showed her a stone that it would be fine to cover. It took her a little time to process and then she quite happily redirected the dirt.

    1. Definitely agree that where possible diversion is easier and more positive.

  4. I do always try to be honest about boundaries, but I have found myself using excuses sometimes instead, mainly to escape feeling like 'nagging mum'. My 4 yr old is fine with explanations but my 2 yr old less so, and now we have another little one who's not yet 3 months, it's often whatever is easiest to explain!

    I agree with you, though, in principle, I do believe it's fundamental that you tell your kids the truth as much as possible. Thanks for posting this, it's reminded me to pay attention to not fall into lazy parenting!

    1. Oh please don;t think for one minute that just because I write about means I always practice what I preach. I'm with you, I agree with the principle but sometimes putting it into practice is really hard and I forget

  5. I am definitely guilty of this one. I always start by owning the rule and explaining why it is a rule. I really am good about that. But when all else fails and they still aren't listening to me, I definitely call in the 'big guns' - the strangers in power (park ranger, lifeguard, etc.) will get upset. That always scares them into following the rule because there is nothing they hate more than getting in trouble from strangers! But you're right, it's totally lame of me to do it! Will try to do better :-)

  6. Hmmm, let me see! My son is eight so it's been a while! I had to use consequences, and stick by them. If I said it... I had to mean it... and my son-when-he-was-a-toddler always had to test it. If I said, "JJ if you throw your glasses we are leaving the park." He throws his $300 glasses ($200 for the shatter-proof lenses and $100 for the baby-safe frames) and we leave the park. Phew! Now that he's eight he listens to me 99% of the time!


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