How to Set Rules and Boundaries That Work
“You are not going to hit your friend.”
Well, actually he did hit his friend.
Boundaries are a funny thing, especially with children. I used to think that I needed to set boundaries for them, I am the adult and I know what’s best for you. Draw the line in the sand, and if they crossed it, trouble was sure to come their way (cleverly disguised as a consequence)
I believed this until a little boy named Aaron enrolled in my school. Every time I “set” a boundary, not only did he cross it, he completely erased it. I would tell Aaron all the “rules” of the classroom, Aaron would challenge each one as a personal mission to make my day miserable. (at least it felt that way at the time).
Aaron would head butt another child while waiting line to go outside.
My response: “Aaron, you know you are not allowed to hurt your friends.”
Aaron would simply state, “He’s not my friend.”
I added, “You are not allowed to hit ANYONE else.”
Aaron: “Yes I am, cuz I did.”
Aaron was an amazing teacher, even at 4 years old. He taught me that I could not set boundaries for him. He would simply outwit or defy the rule maker every time. He did not want to be nor could he be controlled.
The valuable lesson…the only boundaries I can set are my own. The only person I can control is myself: my response, my actions, my communication.
Aaron gave me practice everyday to master this concept. (he wasn’t the only one to give me practice, just the most memorable) :-)
I can hear the response, “Are you saying that kids don’t need rules, or boundaries?”
I am saying that I need to have a clear set of boundaries for myself and communicate those boundaries in a clear, simple, and effective way.
So what does it look and sound like?
I decide what I want, communicate it simply in a matter-of-fact state of being, and create a choice that will allow both of us to get our needs met.
This is what it sounds like: “Aaron, you are welcome to hit your head on the punching bag or hit your pillow.”
Some would say, “What about teaching him that that’s not nice or to be nice to his friend, or that’s not allowed?”
I would simply say to Aaron, “ I know that you are an amazing friend. Sometimes I get angry when I have to wait in line too. Sometimes when I get frustrated I stomp my foot on the ground.”
Aaron needed to know that I believe he is amazing. And he need to know that I too get angry. And then I verbally model a behavior I would like for him to embrace.
My boundary was clear to Aaron without the use of shame, guilt, or anger. Hitting another classmate does not work for me. Here’s what will work for me: he can hit the punching bag or the pillow.
It’s a simple and effective formula:
I hold him in a space of greatness. He IS an amazing child.
I empathize with him, I have felt the same feelings.
I model, with words, a behavior that is appropriate in this situation.
Aaron reminded me that I cannot stop a feeling or a response with a rule, a boundary. I can only give suggestions on how to handle the feeling. We shared wisdom with each other.
Aaron’s wisdom: Miss Heather, I don’t want to be controlled, and even if you try, it won’t work.
My wisdom: Let me offer some ways, dear Aaron, of how you can channel your feelings in situations like this.
I would rather be a mentor than a police officer. I want to model options that are appropriate. A mentor gives options and inspires personal growth. I want to inspire!
Is there a boundary or rule you can re-frame to reflect your needs and offer a choice to your child?