What rules, standards and boundaries should we have and how should they change as a child grows up?
It is important to acknowledge which rules we had as children that have just been passed down through the generations such as ‘respect your elders’, ’don’t talk back’ or ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Are these rules that are perhaps simply ways of controlling what would otherwise be a child who was most likely reflecting the lack of integrity with what was being ‘dictated’ and what was being lived by example. They get termed a wayward child and turn the home into an uncontrollable household.
Let’s keep it simple here and look at a stepped approach - we have some rules, we set standards and we then have boundaries...
There are times when rules are appropriate, they represent what is acceptable and unacceptable in the home. To have integrity and be believable and therefore, do-able for a child or adolescent, they should be the same for everyone and they should be very clear. Examples of rules might be:
· You help around the house
· No shoes in the house
· No devices in bedrooms
· You clear up after yourself
There are only two ways a rule can go, shoes are either on, or off and devices are either in or out. It is worth noting that one of the traits of ‘teenagedom’ is that they start to see where there is one rule for parents and adults, and another for children, and they see through our double standards, and this can then very quickly start to be a point of contention in the home. At this point, teens can start to want more equal or ‘adult’ rules because what rules they are bound by starts to determine their perceived importance and level of respect in the home. Perhaps at this point, rather than rules for rules sake, we need to consider setting standards.
Having an understanding of what is decent and respectful is a really good way to understand the importance setting standards. When you set a standard, you say what is decent and respectful behaviour for all equally, and what is not, and everyone abides by it. It honours each person and considers how the behaviour sits for everyone, not just the individual. It exposes entitlement. For example, the lowest level of behaviour we should ever have for everyone is ‘decency’ and then that sets a standard within and outside the home. It is decent to flush the toilet after you have used it! This respects everyone as it says, 'you deserve to have a clean toilet bowl as much as I do'. Words can be dealt with in the same way. Saying hello to someone offers a level of respect that acknowledges their presence. Respect is given on the grounds that everyone, no matter their job, background, or age, deserves to be spoken to and treated with decency. That is the standard that is set and lived by all, no matter their age or position in the hierarchy of the home. Parents are the ones who need to model this behaviour first for others to see the standard as a movement coming from the body, not just a sound coming from words that do not have the integrity of being lived out in family life.
A boundary says to everyone, that within this space you can move freely, making your own decisions and experimenting with the outcomes of those decisions. To a point. The boundaries move as the child grows and the perimeter expands as the parent sees that the child is more emotionally and physically capable to deal with the current boundary. Our job, as parents, is to offer the emotional and physical skills to match that expanded boundary. The child will outgrow the boundaries and then we need to reassess. At that point there is a negotiation, we need to give the child space to explore how much responsibility and independence they can handle. This may be a step-by-step process, or it may happen overnight. Either way, the boundaries need to move according to that development equipping the child with their own sense of boundaries. We all learn together and learn from each other.
Rules, standards and boundaries are not something we should be afraid of, they are part of what builds independence and vital life skills.