“Give your child choices.” “Allow children to exert influence over their own lives.” “When children make choices it builds their self-esteem.”
These are all phrases we are familiar with in this era of parenting. I, too, believe these statements. However, I believe all of this should be framed within the boundaries of clear limits. These limits ultimately give our children a sense of security and a knowledge of being cared for and loved.
To understand what I mean, picture yourself driving a car in a world with no limits. No rules. At first the freedom of driving at whatever speed you desire, stopping when it makes sense to you, etc. sounds like a dream come true. (My husband would agree that I would like this – I admit I have a heavy foot.) Then, reality would most likely set in. You might approach an intersection unsure of who is stopping and who is going. Personally, the security of knowing I can cross an intersection confident others are stopping. Imagine how insecure you would feel otherwise.
Just as the rules for traffic help us feel confident as we travel life’s roads, I believe boundaries offer that same sense of security to children.
Even though every child’s goal in life seems to be to exert as much influence as they can in all aspects of their life. They seem to think, “If I don’t get my way I can, and will, throw a fit or keep whining until I get my way.” Why not, at 2, 3 and 4 years of aget the world revolves around yourself – right? Again this is all true. Children feel this way and test the boundaries that are set around them. Often! It’s what they are wired to do – and some more than others.
As parents and the adults in children’s lives, however, we are called to set limits that help children grow – feeling safe and secure. It sure sounds nice to let your child help decide what preschool he or she likes, if he or she wears a coat in cold weather, etc….. Instead, parents should set a consistent bedtime. (It actually helps there body get into a rhythm.) Parents should deicde that school is a priority so we are going today. Parents should decide when it is time to leave the park. And on it goes.
Yes, children need choices. Yes, children need some influence of their lives. Let children have those things for the little things. Children can make choices within the boundaries: How are we going to bed tonight, crawl up the stairs or hop down the hall? After a reminder from parents that it is almost time to leave the playground, children can decide if they want three more pushes on the swing or one more time down the big slide.
I know, I am making it sound easier than it is. Truly, I remember the days of trying to decide if this was an issue I needed to make a firm boundary. I had a child who was a “Tantrum Expert.” Untilmately I believe she grew into the strong, capable woman she is today BECAUSE she was allowed choices but always encased within clear limits. Sometimes it was not convenient for me. Often I questioned myself. I believed in my gut, though, that she would benefit from knowing that I was the parent and she was the child. Today, as an adult, she is also my friend. I belive that is the privilege we parents experience once our children are grown in to adults. That is OUR gift.
Right now you have the opportunity, and I believe the duty, to give your child the gift of boundaries. Megan and I will gladly be your cheerleader. If your child is testing those boundaries especially hard, give us a call. Hopefully we can ease the burden, give you the strength to hold firm, or even make you laugh in the midst of the “storm.” My sister did that often for me and it helped me so much. We will gladly pass on the gift of support to you.