There are parents like me who would rather avoid setting boundaries. We fear that conflict or disagreements with our kids will amount to a net loss for us. You’ll stop liking me. You’ll leave. You’ll be too sad, angry, broken spirited. We’ll feel ashamed, doubtful, blame ourselves.
It can feel safer to swallow up our own needs and wants to avoid making waves, even though this invariably means we’re the ones left drowning in a sea of resentment, anger, self-pity.
At some point, if we’re lucky enough to recognize this demoralizing pattern, we might come to the realization that there’s nothing helpful, noble or loving about permissiveness. And with that comes the revelation that our children not only need the boundaries we offer them, they actually crave them. And sometimes, sometimes our kids will even be so wise as to let us know. If you get even a faint whisper of this message, grab it and use it to fortify your heart forever for all the many moments you’ll feel reticent, uneasy, tentative, doubtful, torn, or afraid to stop your child and say some version of no when yes feels so much easier.
To children, our boundaries mean we see you, we love you, we care enough to make the effort, an effort that children always sense and appreciate. Never doubt that.
Here are stories from two parents who were surprised and moved by the sentiments their children expressed in response to their respectful boundaries:
I am a professional animal trainer in a world-class zoo and have spent my career developing confident, respectful relationships with animals, carefully planning, setting myself up to succeed and using primarily positive reinforcement to generate some amazing outcomes. Many of the species I work with can literally kill me (gorillas, chimpanzees, giraffe for example), so without respect and mutual cooperation I have nothing.
I felt quite confident when I was pregnant with my first child- surely my training would help me be the mother I had always hoped to be? Turns out that the juvenile human, especially during the toddler years, had me stumped. 4 years and 3 kids later life is not what I expected. I was constantly frazzled, irritated and angry, my kids wouldn’t follow my instructions, had frequent meltdowns, and I was no longer enjoying their company. Each day was about surviving rather than thriving. This was especially the case with my beautifully extroverted and confident, very strong willed 2.75 year old. The other day I used a technique that you teach, and it worked so well that I had to share it with you.
My son was playing in the front yard when he picked up a stick and walked over to my car and lightly touched it. I said to him from the porch, “Please don’t touch the car with the stick, it might scratch it”. He continued his behavior. I walked over and knelt down next to him: “I won’t let you touch the car with the stick, you can put it on the grass or give it to me”. He motioned back towards the car. “I can see that you are having a hard time putting the stick down, I’m going to take it from you”. There was momentary resistance, but about 5 seconds later he said, “Thank you for packing away my stick, Mummy.” I couldn’t believe it- he thanked me for the discipline!!! I realized that by gently taking control I relieved him of an impossible decision. He knew what was expected of him and didn’t want to get ‘in trouble’ (as would have previously happened), but the stick was new, exciting and had value to him. His 2yo mind lacked the will power to put it down. He needed me to gently take control in order for him to save face. To be able to resolve situations like this so smoothly with confidence and respect is liberating.
Thank you so much!!!
First of all I want to thank you for the peace and love you have brought to our home. After beginning your methods our lives are so much sweeter, and I mostly go to bed free of the mom guilt that plagued me before I read your books.
I just wanted to share a little story with you.
I had read some of your blogs when my first was a baby, and implemented a lot of it, but when I had my second things kind of flew out the window. Bedtime became a struggle. My son started climbing out of his crib, and I would either physically stop him or get frustrated and put him back in. We tried a bed, but he begged for his crib, craving the security of the bars. This became a nightly struggle in which I was visibly upset. I stumbled upon your post about boundaries, and the next night I tried my hardest to stay calm and simply tell him, “I won’t let you climb out,” while creating a physical boundary. To my shock, he stayed in!
We did this for several more weeks with me keeping the physical boundary, but one night I was changing the baby on the bed next to his crib. He started to climb out when I wasn’t looking, but then he stopped. Gently, he said “Mama?” and pretended to start climbing out. I smiled and said, “I won’t let you do that,” and back in he went. Now every night, pleased with the safety of his boundaries, he swings one foot over and stops to look at me. I tell him I won’t let him, we have a giggle, and I wonder how we got to this beautiful point.
Just wanted to reiterate what you’ve said a million times that became so true for me: children need boundaries, they crave them, and it gives them joy to know you will deliver them.
Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.
“Lack of discipline is not kindness, it is neglect.” – Magda Gerber
Thank you to Kate and Emma for allowing me to share your wonderful stories and photos! (Cover photo from Kate!)