5 Reasons Your Child Craves Boundaries

5 Reasons Your Child Craves Boundaries

Boundaries are our way of protecting and looking after ourselves. They are the secret gatekeepers to our souls, keeping the good in and the not-so-good out. But why does your child crave them? Boundaries help your child thrive by teaching them responsibility, security, consequences, respect, and emotional regulation.

What Children Can Learn From Boundaries.

  1. Responsibility

    Boundaries teach children that they are the only ones in control of their own behavior. To do this, allow the consequences of their choices to follow them. Give your child the advantage in life by giving them the space to ask for something they want. Even though they may not get it. Whenever you can, allow them to talk about their frustration and sadness without jumping to fix it for them. Feeling frustrated and sad are not “bad” feelings. But making them feel like they are bad, will stop your child from expressing themselves.

    If your child can take responsibility for her own feelings and needs, she will learn how to meet those needs too. She will learn that her failure and her success (because one leads to the other!) is because of her own initiative. Your instinct will be to immediately scoop her up and save her, but ‘saving’ her will only mean over-dependence on you and a lack of responsibility for herself. Support her, and be there with her, but give her the opportunity to discover her own resilience and resourcefulness.

  2. Security

    Right from when children are little, they will give you signs when they are anxious or distressed. Being able to say no from a young age gives them the power over their own voices. The best thing you can do for them is to respect their choices. To nurture this, respond in a way that shows you support your child, even though you might not agree with them. Allow your child the space to say no while still giving her your love and acceptance. This will allow them to learn that it is okay to be themselves and have their own opinions. Being able to say no within their own families, will help them do the same with peers or at work when they are older. 

  3. Consequences

    Children need to have a sense of direction in their lives. When you give your child a choice, you give them the power of that choice too. You give them a sense of authority and control, even if it is a simple choice of what color bowl they want for breakfast. 

    Help them feel confident in the decisions they make now.  They will draw on this same confidence again when deciding bigger issues as they grow older. Be patient. Give your child the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them too.

  4. Respect

    Have you ever been around a child (or anyone for that matter) who can’t accept the word “no”? The child knows that if she pushes the right buttons, one parent will be likely to say yes. Learning that no means no, is a great lesson in having empathy for others. Being able to see things from someone else’s perspective is a gift. Children need to know that their behavior always has a consequence and that their actions can be hurtful. Understanding that “no” means “no” when it comes to that candy car, will help your child respect the “no” that comes from running a budget, obeying the law, doing the ‘right’ thing.

  5. Regulating Emotions

    It isn’t easy for children to make their big feelings, feel not so big. Temper tantrums are the direct result of letting big feelings take over completely. As children get older, they learn how to talk about their needs through conversations with you. Learning how to regulate their emotions, can also lead them to be patient in getting what they want. They learn how to cool off on their own and how this in itself, has a reward down the line for them. This teaches them how to have a goal in life, and to enjoy the reward of that goal when they reach it.

    To encourage this, accept your child’s feelings, even when it’s inconvenient for you. Encourage your child to feel as mad as she wants, but make sure she knows that she cannot hit someone else when she feels that way. Praise her for a job well done and help her choose her own reward as a result of managing her big feelings on her own.

Teaching your child how to set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others can be a challenge. Give your child the advantage in life by teaching them how to identify their needs, and how best to meet them. You are your child’s best role model. Your clear and consistent boundaries will teach your child exactly how they can do the same for themselves.


About the Author: Carla Buck

Carla Buck, M.A., is a writer, mental health therapist and global traveler having traveled to more than 75 countries worldwide. She has experience working with children and their parents all over the world, having lived, worked and volunteered in Africa, North America, Europe and the Middle East. Carla is the creator of Warrior Brain Parenting, helping moms and dads confidently raise their secure and calm children. 

You can visit her website and learn more at https://www.warriorbrain.com or join the Warrior Brain Parenting community on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/warriorbrain/

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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