Setting Boundaries

Setting Boundaries

At a recent Heads of School meeting, several Heads were talking about what were the “hot” issues they were facing in their school communities. One topic that received a fair amount of attention was how teachers and parents set boundaries for the children and how often there appears to be a disconnect between home and school around this issue.

In schools, teachers set classroom rules (usually with input from students) that provide for a safe and inclusive learning environment. A teacher learns very quickly that children will by nature, test boundaries and that it is important to be consistent in the enforcement of rules. In a classroom there is no room for negotiation or quite frankly a teacher would never have time to teach. It usually does not take long for a child to realize that a teacher is going to react in the same manner each time a rule is broken. This consistency of expectations makes for a more harmonious classroom.

Parents too, need to set consistent boundaries and follow through in a consistent manner. This is particularly true because there can be a real mixed message if at school there is consistent enforcement, but at home a child’s negotiations warrant a bending of the rules or parents give in to a child’s wishes.

Debbie Pincus MS LMHC, notes that “when we (parents) get anxious about our kids, we often over function for them and that’s when boundaries can get blurred.” Sometimes it is easier to give in to a child’s request than to stick to “the plan.” For young children it might be a temper tantrum, as a matter of fact at schools we see that temper tantrums can occur even with older children and do so in situations where children are often getting their own way at home.

Debbie Pincus has created a list of signs that parents should be aware of that might be an indicator that boundaries are being blurred as a parent:

  • Doing for your child what he can (or should) do for himself.
  • Constantly asking questions; interrogating your child over everything.
  • Letting a child invade your boundaries as a couple –making your kids the center focus at all times.
  • Over-sharing with your child about your life; treating them like a friend rather than your child.
  • Giving up your parental authority and allowing your child to take control of the household.
  • Living through your child vicariously; feeling as if their achievements are yours, and their failures are yours as well.
  • Your child is upset and you fall apart.

As a parent you can let your child experience difficult feelings with your knowledge that at their core they know you love them, even when you need to stand firm. If you define your boundaries and then consistently communicate those to your child, they will know where you stand. There may be a few attempts to negotiate, but very quickly they will come to see that the boundaries are there for their best interest.

The clearer you are with what your expectations are for you child, the easier it will be for them to function within those expectations. You must stand firm. Last year I had a first grade parent call me and ask if her son was disruptive at school. I had never witnessed this at school and I asked the teacher who confirmed that he was in fact quite well behaved. I conveyed that to the mom. She indicated that at home he was quite obstinate, disrespectful and would always try and negotiate. She finally asked him why he behaved at school and why he was so difficult at home. He answered, “Because at school there are consequences.” Almost overnight mom saw a significant change in behavior as she set clear expectations.

I always like to remind newer teachers that it is alright to say “no” to a child. And it is alright for parents, too.

Jeff Escabar

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