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One of the hardest things that I’ve found within my parenting journey is finding the right balance when setting boundaries. We all want the absolute best for our children and through speaking to lots of different parents, it is common for people to feel that there are things that they experienced and felt in their childhood that they don’t want for their own children. If we grew up often feeling that we weren’t good enough, we can end up going above and beyond to make sure our babies know their worth. If we felt like we didn’t have a voice, we might make sure their voice is always heard. If we felt unaccepted, we will likely go that extra mile to make sure that our children know that we love every unique fibre of who they are.

All these messages are brilliant to instil in children. However, if we don’t deal with our own pain of feeling the contrary when we were younger, we can run the risk of overcompensation and as a result, sometimes struggle within ourselves to assert boundaries through a subconscious fear of making our children feel the way we did.

Throughout parenting, we are going to have to assert boundaries that our children will not always be impressed with. It’s hard to see them upset, but in the long run, the lesson of boundaries is just as important as the one of self-worth, acceptance and feeling heard. If we don’t lead by example with an ability to set strong boundaries, we run the risk of our own children struggling to set them for themselves in the future too. It is therefore imperative that we are self-aware as parents and work through our own struggles so that we don’t pass them down. Here are some ways that we can set fair boundaries that still honour our children’s worth and self-esteem:

Mirror what we want to see

If we want children to act a certain way, the most effective tool we have is modelling what we want to see. If we want our children to stop shouting, it makes no sense to shout at them to deliver this message. If we want our children to be respectful, we need to be respectful of them on a consistent basis and know that they are little human beings with their own mind and opinions. This leads me on to my next point…

Make our expectations realistic and relevant

If my children are reacting badly to me, the first thing I ask myself is if I’m being fair. Quite often when I ask myself this and put myself in their shoes, I realise that I could have handled it better. Do we expect children to react better than we would in the same situation?

An example of this is if a child is immersed in something and we tell them they must tidy away because it’s lunch time. If I was in that situation (for example totally engrossed in writing this article), and someone did the same to me without any warning, I’d be really frustrated. I’d need to know in good time how long I had so that I could naturally finish off what I was doing, and I certainly wouldn’t like to be told how long that was. Children are no different. What I find works is that I ask my children (in good time) how much longer they need to finish off. We then agree on a time, which is usually about 10-20 minutes. We sometimes even set a timer together and I will also give them little reminders along the way letting them know how much time they have left. Usually this works well, but on the odd occasion that it doesn’t, and they resist. I gently remind them that they agreed this time and follow through with bringing it to an end. The act of following through is so important because they not only learn that your word is your word, but they also learn that they must honour their word too and stick to what they say.

Show compassion

We don’t have to be bullish when setting boundaries. In the example above, if my child was having a meltdown, I would show them compassion and tell them that I understood how they felt, but that they need to remember that they agreed to the time. I would also explain why it was important that we needed to pack things away and if possible or appropriate, I’d let them know that they could continue later when we returned.

Be consistent

Consistency is the most important thing when setting boundaries. It’s so simple but can at times be so hard to do. We’ve all been in the situation as a parent when we choose to let something go in the hope for a bit of peace and quiet and an easier life. In fact, the phrase ‘picking your battles’ is a common one that I hear and have used myself many times. The problem is, it’s easier in the moment to give in, but long term, it teaches children that your boundaries are blurred. I have been guilty of this myself but have realised how important it is for your word to be your word. Not just for following through with consequences, but for positive things too. If a child asks you to play and you say you will in 5 minutes. Even if they forget and you are tempted to nip for a cup of tea instead (we’ve all been there!) it is important that you follow through. Every time you do, it strengthens your child’s trust in your word and teaches them that you do what you say, and you say what you mean. Only ever promise what you can deliver and state consequences that you can follow through with. If you are sat in a restaurant eating your starter, don’t tell your children that you will take them home if they behave like that one more time if you aren’t prepared to walk away from that juicy main course, dessert and very large glass of wine!

At the end of the day, being a parent is the most amazing, but also the hardest thing we will ever do. We are never going to be perfect, and we will all make mistakes. However, if we can do our best and get it right 80% of the time, take responsibility for the other 20% and cut ourselves some slack, we will raise confident little humans who not only know how to respect boundaries, but also know how to assert them too.

Be consistent

Consistency is the most important thing when setting boundaries. It’s so simple but can at times be so hard to do. We’ve all been in the situation as a parent when we choose to let something go in the hope for a bit of peace and quiet and an easier life. In fact, the phrase ‘picking your battles’ is a common one that I hear and have used myself many times. The problem is, it’s easier in the moment to give in, but long term, it teaches children that your boundaries are blurred. I have been guilty of this myself but have realised how important it is for your word to be your word. Not just for following through with consequences, but for positive things too. If a child asks you to play and you say you will in 5 minutes. Even if they forget and you are tempted to nip for a cup of tea instead (we’ve all been there!) it is important that you follow through. Every time you do, it strengthens your child’s trust in your word and teaches them that you do what you say, and you say what you mean. Only ever promise what you can deliver and state consequences that you can follow through with. If you are sat in a restaurant eating your starter, don’t tell your children that you will take them home if they behave like that one more time if you aren’t prepared to walk away from that juicy main course, dessert and very large glass of wine!

At the end of the day, being a parent is the most amazing, but also the hardest thing we will ever do. We are never going to be perfect, and we will all make mistakes. However, if we can do our best and get it right 80% of the time, take responsibility for the other 20% and cut ourselves some slack, we will raise confident little humans who not only know how to respect boundaries, but also know how to assert them too. 

About the author:

Stacey Kelly is a former French and Spanish teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box. After becoming a mum, Stacey left her teaching career and started writing and illustrating storybooks to help support her children through different transitional stages like leaving nursery and starting school. Seeing the positive impact of her books on her children’s emotional wellbeing led to Early Years Story Box being born. Stacey has now created 35 storybooks, all inspired by her own children, to help teach different life lessons and to prepare children for their next steps. She has an exclusive collection for childcare settings that are gifted on special occasions like first/last days, birthdays, Christmas and/or Easter and has recently launched a new collection for parents too. Her mission is to support as many children as she can through storytime and to give childcare settings an affordable and special gifting solution that truly makes a difference.

Email: stacey@earlyyearsstorybox.com or Telephone: 07765785595

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/earlyyearsstorybox

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/eystorybox

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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacey-kelly-a84534b2/

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