Why do we need boundaries?

Why do we need boundaries? Quite simply, without boundaries a child is abandoned and terrified, constantly running on anxiety. They may not show you their terror, but nonetheless it sits in the body and destabilises. For a child, not having secure and safe boundaries for their behaviour, their routines and their everyday living, the outcome is the child is living with a constant level of stress that exhibits in challenging and often out of control behaviours.

While children will always challenge their boundaries, and this is natural for them to do so as they grow and develop, to have no secure and consistent boundaries means they are abandoned to their own devices to self-regulate. Almost all children do not have the capacity to do that. They need to have boundaries, the boundaries are like a barn door for a goat, they can hit their head against the constriction again and again and as they do, they learn what is acceptable behaviour and what is not and gradually learn to stop hitting that barn door and surrounding walls and settle down. What we are talking about here are reasonable and sensible boundaries, for there is no intention to put our children into a prison of our making, but mark what is acceptable behaviour, and that is what they kick off against.

Could it be, that we have seen too many idealised films where children are well behaved and like their parents and everyone gets on together all of the time? Real-life and real families are not like that at all. In fact, most parents are not liked very much by their children when they start to push their boundaries, they come out with comments like ‘I hate you’ or ‘you’re the worst mum/dad in the world.’ This is common and expected when boundaries are tested. Most of our children need to explore that strong old barn and hit their head against the door and walls so they can learn and grow; if there is no barn and no door, they are abandoned in a no-man’s land without security, this is where the internal terror kicks in that produces arrogance, aggression, violence, lack of empathy and challenging behaviour, and that’s just for starters.

Many of us say, ‘I don’t want to be the one they don’t like.’ While this is understandable, as it’s not great hearing our child screaming at us that we are ‘the worst parent … ever’, nevertheless it is a part of the job.

When our sweet baby was born, did anyone ever mention that they would turn into this screaming child over the next few - maybe 10-20 years? Nope. Did anyone tell us that we need to feel so solid and secure in ourselves so that we wouldn’t bat an eyelid when the verbal tirade begins? Nope. We have our baby and think life is ‘happy ever after’ when it’s more like ‘unending challenge ever after.’ We are sold a pig in a poke really, because we are not supported in our communities to become ‘parent-fit’. The key to parenting fitness is to connect inside so the outside doesn’t knock us sideways. There are a range of resources we have in order to build that inner connection and get ourselves fit for the job. Being ‘parent fit’ is to become so steady and solid in ourselves that we don’t waiver so much when our children are hitting the barn door. Fit, so that we don’t get rattled, devastated or fall apart when they tell us we are the worst parent and they hate us every day? We can develop and settle down with our own self-love, appreciation and self-worth, knowing we are more than enough because this comes from the inside-out and is not dependant on external confirmation. If we are connected internally, that is our rock in life, no matter how hard they hit that barn door and boundaries become a normal part of the life skills we are offering them as part of their education growing up.

Further reading

What do our children see?

Trust and truth in families