Thursday, September 1, 2016

Extending Boundaries

When it comes to boundaries with our kids, I'm all in.  Let's get that straight.  I love consistency, and I love the safety that our kids feel through consistent boundaries.  However, when it comes to extending boundaries, I am also "all in".

By extending boundaries, I mean being very selective in the boundaries that we as parents choose to enforce.  A mentor of mine from several years ago likens this to an ice skating rink.  The boundaries are wide enough to allow our kids the freedom to play and express themselves within the confines of the skating rink.  The boundaries are firm, yet wide.  For this mentor and his wife, the main boundary was kindness.  Inside of kindness, all sorts of things were allowed in family and public life.

As an example from my own life, when I take my toddler on a walk, the main boundary is staying out of the street.  She knows "no street", and abides about 90% of the time.  (Of course, that means I am right by her always for the other 10%!)  Outside of "no street" she is provided with all sorts of space to do as much or as little as she pleases.  For example, very often, she wants to explore the yards of our neighbors as we walk to the park.  I have decided that this is okay.  The worst thing that happens is I get yelled at.  In the meantime, she gets to skate around the ice rink with all sorts of freedom.  By the way, sometimes, we never even make it to the park, and that's okay too.  Why would I be so determined to get her to the park if she has enjoyed herself in the yards of others?

There is another benefit to extending boundaries, which is that the boundaries I choose to enforce are much more heard by her, or any other kid for that matter.  This is sort of like the "boy who cried wolf" applied to another situation.  If we set all sorts of boundaries and restrict the freedom of our children, then it seems less likely that they will hear our boundaries when we do enforce them.  "No street" is much stronger in isolation than in the midst of a bombardment of "no's" which become background noise to many children.

By the way, this isn't just for toddlers.  When our elementary, middle school, and teenage kids have consistent, extended boundaries, which allow playfulness and self-expression, then our more crucial boundaries become much louder to their ears and hearts.  The real question to ask ourselves is, "Is the boundary I'm establishing here really necessary?"  

Photo taken with permission from flickr creative commons by Laura Bittner @