Learning Points: Clear boundaries help create harmony at home

I was asked recently by a reader, what would I say is the single most important thing parents can do to make for a happy home? I have considered that question and this is my response.

In my experience, setting healthy clear boundaries that respect the individuality of your child is crucial for a successful happy home. I often meet families where the boundaries are in place but they are stifling the spirit of the child. Boundaries must never be destructive, they are meant to be supportive.

They are in place to help your child navigate the world and to understand that there are consequences for our behaviours. The ultimate goal of a clear healthy boundary that respects the child is to help that child understand how to make the right decision when you are not looking.

When we think about slapping as a response to a boundary being broken we can see why boundaries are important. Let’s just say you come home from a long day and your child is playing the computer, you ask them to stop and they don’t. You’re tired and you’ve being working all day and your child is pushing your competencies and patience. So you grab the game and slap them and tell them never to be cheeky to you again. What has been achieved here? Well, many things.

Your child knows now never to play the game before you come in, because you are likely to be tired, hungry and aggressive and you will hurt them if you catch them playing the game. They also learn how to be deceptive. They are not going to get caught again! Going forward in their life, they will develop this response to avoid getting caught in any behaviour they feel may not be well received. But what have they learned that is positive for their life? Nothing. All they’ve learned is not to get caught because mom or dad will overreact. And that is the complete opposite of why a boundary is in place. Boundaries teach our children how to navigate the world. They teach them to make the right decision when they are alone, and free to make a choice that may have negative consequences for their life. Slapping your child teaches them to never get caught. There is a huge difference here for the thought process of your child and for the future happiness of that child as it moves into adult life.

Authoritarian Boundaries

‘Where there is power, there is resistance’ (Michel Foucault).

An authoritarian style of parenting is as destructive for your child’s psyche as absolute permissive parenting. They both achieve the same outcome; an unhappy, confused child. I see it so often in my clinical practice, parents seek out therapy for their child whom they feel is depressed and in my early conversations the child delineates a stifling environment that they have no understanding of how to navigate successfully. An authoritarian boundary can annihilate the spirit of the child because once they break the boundary they are completely destroyed.

Permissive Boundaries

Boundaries that do not hold are an exercise in futility. If one parent is more permissive it erodes any potential for your child to learn how to navigate the world. If you are reading this and this resonates with you ask yourself, why is my partner more likely to give into my child’s demands than I am? What does this behaviour say about your partner and the way they were raised? Is your partner consumed with being your child’s best friend? Because we were oppressed as children we often mistakenly believe that to have a boundary places us in the position of an authoritarian despot.

And nothing could be further from the truth. It is this misapprehension that causes many parents to adopt a permissive parenting style and this causes so much conflict for them in their lives. And they cannot understand why their child, that has it all, does not respect them like they had to respect their father who treated them very poorly. This is the contradiction of permissive parenting. In your bid to make your child happy you are making everyone in the family unit miserable.

Authoritative Boundaries

Authoritative parenting is the most desirable approach a parent can take when it comes to setting very clear and concise rules for the family system. As a species we respond well to rules that are fair and easy to understand. Every house should have clear and concise boundaries framed in a language that everyone in the unit can understand. Keep it simple and relatable.

Explain the reason for the boundary and the consequences if that boundary is broken. The type of boundary I’m speaking about here is a boundary that holds the child and supports them. It does not annihilate them when they break it, because your child will test the boundaries and they will break them and that is why you must put clear ramifications and consequences in place for that eventuality.

You do not want to raise robots and you do not want to give your child too much autonomy. During adolescence you are trying to teach your child how to be independent but they are not there yet, so it’s about holding autonomy, and boundaries hold your child and teach them how to navigate the world successfully. And this will make for a happy home.

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