I want to talk today about a more practical topic – boundaries, and more specifically how to start setting boundaries. I get a lot of comments about how well behaved Olivia is in both our home and out in public. She has a very sweet and gentle temperament and is very obedient, so I really don’t think I can take all the credit for her good behavior. I think so much of it is just her personality. However, kids are kids and as they get older they are going to push the boundaries and see how far they can go. They know you said no, but they want to see what it takes to get you to break and say yes. It’s your will against theirs. I am of the firm belief that you should set boundaries even before they’re needed. If boundaries are already set in place before they’re even needed, you and your child will have an easier time transitioning into the need for obeying boundaries. My oldest is only a year and half right now, but I have been working on boundaries with her since she was just a few months old. I pretty much have always talked to her as if she understood much more than I knew she actually did. Let me explain that. When she was only about a week old, I remember she heard and noticed the sound of the heater for the first time. Since I noticed she had noticed the noise, I told, “That’s the heater and the heater keeps us warm.” I know she did not understand any of that, but I still explained it to her. Often times I think we don’t get kids enough credit. We think, “oh, they don’t understand that.” so we never bother to explain it to them, or sometimes even shield them from something because we don’t think they understand. Kids are very smart. Now I know a two week old isn’t going to be able to comprehend much, but I still explained things to her. I really think it’s helped us with obedience and just learning things in general now that she is older. She understands things that shock me, but I think it’s because we’ve always explained things that were probably over her heard.
Before I became a mom, I never wanted to childproof my house, or move things so that my kids didn’t touch or break stuff. I wanted a safe environment for them so they didn’t get hunt unnecessarily, but I also wanted them to have boundaries instead of just rearranging my life and home. My thought was simply this, “I will teach them that when I say no, I mean no. And there will be consequences for their disobedience.” I will admit once I had my first child, I didn’t completely stick to this “no change” policy completely. However, I haven’t gone the other direction completely either. I think my husband and I have found a nice balance that works for our family. Allow God into this as well. He will lead you and guide into what’s right for your family and even each child individually. I asked God to help me with this and He absolutely has and still does! I believe you can find examples of these points in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God set up boundaries in the Garden of Eden – the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
So how do you start setting boundaries and when?
As I’ve already mentioned, I think the sooner you start setting boundaries the better. It’s less frustrating for all involved in my option. It can be something as simple as teaching your two month old not to pull your hair. That’s a completely normal thing for babies to do. It’s also a very easy way to start setting a boundary. When your baby pulls your hair, just move their hand gently and say, “no, no. Don’t pull momma’s hair, honey.” or something like that. They don’t need a punishment if they pull your hair again, but you’re setting a boundary so that they learn. Pulling their hand away is the “consequence” if you will. Their action (pulling your hair) results in you removing their hand (the consequence). You can tell them no and even explain why they can’t do it – it’s hurts momma. Obviously, boundaries and consequences change with age, but this is a starting point.
I try to redirect Olivia when she’s doing something she’s not supposed to do. If she’s touching the remote control and I don’t want her to, I can tell her, “Olivia, you don’t need the remote. Mommy doesn’t want you to touch the remote. Let’s play over here with your blocks.” Redirect their focus to something else. Now that Olivia is older, she usually redirects herself now after I tell her not to play with something. It’s like it’s become a habit to go find something else because that’s what she’s used to.
I always try to explain why my child is not allowed to do something. I know I don’t like being told not to do something, but never told why not, so it’s no different for a child. And hopefully, by giving a reason up front it will eliminate the “but why?” back and forth when they’re older.
Let them choose
One of the main reasons for setting boundaries is that they learn to obey. I want my children to learn how to choose to do the right thing, not just be afraid of the consequences that come with disobeying. I usually give Olivia a choice. When she was just becoming mobile, we bought a play yard for her to play in so that she didn’t start pulling herself up on things that might fall over on top of her. It was also because our townhouse at the time was so small, it didn’t take much time at all for her to get into stuff that we just simply could not move. It was a safe place for her to play in and gave me a chance to use the bathroom without worrying about her. If she was outside the play yard, she had full access to front and back doors, kitchen, bathroom, and stairs. We would intentionally let her have some play time out of the play yard while we supervised so that she learned boundaries. She was not allowed in the kitchen or to go up the stairs. We would let her crawl over to both the kitchen and stairs, but gave her a boundary. She could only go to the edge of the carpet and then had to stop. If she went passed the carpet and touched the tile in our kitchen, she would be told “no.” Once I knew she understood what the no was for, I would tell her no and then say, “You have a decision to make. You can either choose to obey mommy or disobey. Choose wisely.” I wanted her to learn to choose to obey me. I would let her touch the tile in the kitchen, or touch the bottom step of the stairs, but I would always tell her she had a choice to make. If she chose to disobey, there would be a consequence for that decision. She crawls up the stairs herself when we go up stairs for any reason, but her new boundary is to wait for mommy (or an adult).
Consistence is key! Kids likes to push boundaries and see how far they can go. Someone is bound to cave and give it. It’s just a matter of who does it first – mom or child. There have been days where I feel like all I’ve done is correct Olivia. I’m going to share this story about being consistent, but I want to preface it with this – Olivia likes to use tissues to wipe her nose. It’s really cute. She somehow learned how to blow her nose around a year old. Since she likes to have tissues, she also likes to rip these tissues to shreds. She knows very well now that she is not allowed to rip up tissues. So… The other day, she ripped up a tissue after I told her not to. I saw it, in pieces, on the floor and looked at her and asked her if she ripped up the tissue. She very hesitantly said yes. Then I asked her if mommy told her not to do that and she said yes. I asked her why she disobeyed mommy. I honestly didn’t think she’d understand this concept very well, but she put her hands up and crooked her neck like, “I don’t know, mommy.” I had to turn my face away so she didn’t see me start to laugh! It was so funny. I then told her she needed to pick up all the pieces and hand them to me. She shook her head no. I told her not to tell me no, and again told her to hand me the pieces. She said, “no.” I told her if she didn’t pick up all the pieces of tissue and hand them to me she was going to get a spanking and to choose wisely. She shook her head no again and started to walk away. So I picked her up and told her she was getting a spanking for disobeying mommy. Then again told her to pick up all the pieces and hand them to me. This cycle happened for seemed like an hour (it was a few minutes, but it’s wasn’t forever) and just as I was wondering if I needed to give up, she started picking up the pieces. She picked up every last piece of that tissue and handed them to me as she cried. Whew. I’m glad I kept at it. She was trying to break me and I didn’t cave, so she did. It’s hard. Being consistent is exhausting! It would have been so much easier to just let her do her thing and pick the tissue myself. It would have been quicker, too, but I’m glad I didn’t choose the easy way.
There are a few variables here, too, and it’s like a sub-point to all of the above. Age comes into play big time here. We need to take into consideration their age and learning/understanding abilities. They are still developing in every area. Their minds are still developing. Their emotional infrastructure isn’t capable of handling every situation. You don’t want to discipline children for things they cannot understand. That’s not fair. She picks up her own toys every night before bed. If we had company over and it’s passed her bedtime, she goes straight to bed and I clean up the toys that night. I’m not going to spend 5 minutes of crying and fighting her when she’s tired like that. I know she isn’t going to obey me perfectly and that’s okay with given the situation. If we get home super late and it’s passed her bedtime, I’m not going to go round and round with her. She’s exhausted and under two years old. I’m not going to hold that against her. She’s too little, in my opinion to be that strict about things. Once again, she’s one and a half! She does not have the emotional infrastructure to handle this type of situation, and I will not discipline her for not understanding something.
Boundaries are a good thing
Clearly you can go overboard and make your kids feel like they aren’t allowed to do anything, but kids need boundaries. You aren’t doing you children any favors by letting them do whatever they want whenever they want. The Bible actually says if we don’t discipline our children, we hate them.
Proverbs 13:24 in two different translations:
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” NKJV
“A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them.” Message
It’s not fun to correct our kids and give them a punishment, but we do it out of love for them. They need to learn how to submit to authority. They need to learn how to handle not getting their way all the time. They need to learn what’s right and what’s wrong. And on and on I could go. I think so many of the problems in our culture today is a result of kids never having boundaries growing up. Now that they’re becoming adults, they can’t handle systems, laws, etc. simply because it’s not something that they ever learned.
We have such an important role in our children’s lives. We need to lead and guide them so they can succeed in life. Creating boundaries for our children will only help them flourish. It allows us to cultivate a better home for them as well. There will be times where it’s difficult and tiring, but it’s so worth it! Keep it up, momma and remember you are anointed to be their momma.