Have you ever asked your child to do something “or else!” only to backslide when the time comes to deliver? For me, a mother of four kids ranging from nearly one to ten years of age, the question isn’t have I done this, but how recently.
Parenting boundaries. Do you know yours? Setting them and keeping them without completely losing our cool can be a struggle.
Take the mother I saw in the park last month whose repeated attempts to get her child to leave were met with deaf ears. She finally resorted to the ‘ole “I’m leaving” trick. “Bye-bye Lilly, mommy’s going home now!” Lilly, a wide-eyed, smiling little girl must have been all of three years old and she didn’t move an inch. This was a game for her, and from what I could see, she was winning.
The gig was up. Mom came back and began to plead with her, but this time with much more force. A full blown power struggle ensued. Short of dragging this child off the playground, mom wasn’t going to get her daughter to leave anytime soon.
We’ve all been there, locking horns with our kids over this or that to have the entire situation end in yelling and tears. So what’s the answer?
Knowing our parenting boundaries ahead of time can help us uphold them with an enforceable consequence when and if they are crossed. Let’s be real, even a three year old can learn to call her mother’s bluff!
Because our children want to know their boundaries, they will test ours. If we really want to help our children grow into happy and response-able adults, we (me included!) get to take a closer look at this thing called boundaries; both ours and theirs. As we become more skilled in setting healthy boundaries, we are able to better maintain our personal integrity and teach our kids to do the same.
So what might have helped that mom on the playground? The first thing that came to my mind that day was what if mom had given her child a five minute “heads-up” that soon they would be leaving? It might have helped. The little girl was having trouble transitioning and this little bit of notice can do wonders. Another idea to help prevent the power struggle that eventually ensued is humor. Never underestimate how far a playful spirit can take you when dealing with children.
It was time to go. What if mom started a marching band parade all the way to the car? What if she started telling a crazy story about how they had to hurry to their rocket ship before it blasted off without them to outer space? “10-9-8 — oh we better hurry! – 7 – 6 – 5…” you get the picture. The ideas are endless. Anything fun or silly might have helped the two disengage from the power struggle while still upholding mom’s boundary: it is time to go.
When a parent can peacefully maintain their boundaries even (especially) amidst conflict, it means their child is learning to peacefully uphold their boundaries as well. Learning by example from one’s own parent – a most powerful teacher.
This week as we parent, let’s breathe when we feel our blood pressure rising. Let’s pause before we speak/react. Let’s maintain our boundaries and our inner peace. It may not be easy… but it will be rewarding.
Peacefully maintained boundaries. What a gift to give our children (and ourselves.)