Boundaries 2

Parents can assist their children to develop the kinds of boundaries that allow them to grow and develop as capable, competent human beings. Here are some of the boundary issues that parents can effectively manage.

1. The child talks about people (children, a friend’s parent, a teacher) that the parent has never met as if the parent knows who they are. “I’ll be so excited if Janet comes today!”

If the parent doesn’t know who Janet is, he or she should ask, “Who is Janet? I don’t think you have mentioned her before.” This is a simple way of reminding the child that what he has experienced is separate from his parents’ experience. It allows the child to understand that he has knowledge and experience that is different from that of his parents and therefore different from other people.

2. The child begins speaking before noticing if the parent is paying attention or even while the parent is talking to someone else.

The parent should respond, “I need you to wait until I can give you my attention. I want to hear what you have to say, but right now I am not able to do so.” The child needs to learn that the world does not revolve around him. Being the center of the world is a tremendous burden and responsibility. Having a sense of where he belongs in the world is important. The child should understand that he is very important to his parents and grandparents and he is also important to his teachers and caregivers, but there are other people and things in the world that are also important and that he is not the prime concern of everyone in the world. This helps the child define himself and his place in the world and relieves him of the burden of running the world which little children who are overly catered-to possess. Such a burden leads to magical thinking (“If I wish bad on someone, something bad will happen”) and feelings of guilt and reinforcement of feelings of omnipotence if something bad does happen.

3. The child enters the parents’ personal space.

The child should not be permitted to rummage through parents’ belongings, get in the middle of their discussions, or sleep in their bed. Children need to know that parents also have boundaries and that they want and need privacy. They can be taught by analogy, asked if they would want someone to go through their things without permission or interrupt them when they are speaking. Teaching children to respect parents’ boundaries legitimizes their desire for boundaries.

4. The child becomes insistent that the parent buy him or her something while in a store, repeating his or her request many times or beginning to have a tantrum.

The parents must tell the child it is the parents who decide what will be purchased and nagging and pleading are not helpful. The child should never be rewarded for whining. That means that nagging, pleading, and whining will not be effective means of persuasion. Parents should tell children that they will listen to a request and then decide based on the merits of the request but they will not be blackmailed by poor behavior.

These are only some of the ways that parents can enforce healthy limits. More about boundaries next time…..

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  1. Nelly Alcala de Fielding says

    Thank you Savta. I wish the world could read this column–teachers in the US have rooms filled with children who are either the centre of the universe, or are lesser than the dregs of society. Sigh.