Do Children Need Boundaries?
Children need boundaries. Everyone says so. This ‘fact’ seems to be so deeply embedded in our beings that we back it with passion…but when we ponder its truth it crumbles into meaninglessness.
Boundaries are said to give children security and a safe space for their development, letting them taste their autonomy without becoming overwhelmed. Children are said to test these boundaries to make sure they’re secure. And apparently wherever there is friction, there is warmth, so we mustn’t be alarmed when we spend our days defending the boundaries we have set, our child is actually really thankful for them and feels the love.
Hmm. Where to begin? Attachments and secure parent-child-relationships have been proven to provide security for children and also allow them to thrive, as appose to surroundings that are negative, controlling and overpowering.
When we set these fake boundaries we keep children from experiencing the true ones – the personal boundaries human beings have. A two year old who hasn’t been forced to sit in a buggy or hold a hand will gladly stick by you in a crowd, experiencing the instinct to do so out of fear of getting lost. The child who stepped on a stepping stone and almost lost his balance and fell in to the stream will stick out his hand and expect you to assist him. The child who is being grabbed at and forbidden to test his boundary will run head-on for that stream and have no consideration for the consequences (the real ones – as in he’ll fall right in). That’s how strong the need for autonomy is.
Children don’t require set boundaries; they need the space in which to pitch their own comfort zone.
The World isn’t a frightening infinite place when you can count on those attachment figures to be there when you need them. Having secure attachments (not ruling over your child) means we trust our children, we address their needs and respect their will. These conditions give the child a very cozy spot in the family and allow for a sense of actual security in themselves and their environment.
When children are said to be testing boundaries they are generally fighting for autonomy. And when they experience autonomy it allows for them to trust their own sense and reason, but also in us. They trust that we are the helping hand, the people with a treasure of experience and knowledge that assists their learning and helps further their abilities.
Mainstream child-raising forces boundaries and limits, robbing children of autonomy, but at the same time pushes them to be independent. Independence, however, can only come to fruition when the foundation is set and they mustn’t fight for their right for autonomy. All the intervention and forbidding and coercing makes them dependent on exactly that: intervention, bans and coercion. When a child is free to run toward that stream, he or she will do so with forethought, instead of hurtling towards it, knowing you are right there to nip the interest in the bud. So basically the set boundaries are ineffective, they do not do what they are supposed to (give security, protect the child and support development).
Just like we would interject a friend who is about to step out into the road, having been distracted from checking all is clear, we naturally do the same for our children. And of course we anticipate the age and development of a child – for instance a one year old cannot yet fathom the necessity of checking all is clear. This must not happen in an overpowering way (“Stop! If you don’t stop we will go straight home! You will sit in the buggy now!”), though, and you will find said one year old to happily look to you for guidance in situations like this, if you do not misuse your natural authority and take a hurtful tone when you protect your child. When my younger son was two years old and darting around on his Like-a-Bike I explained the dangers of the road, but more to the point told him I am scared when he runs to close to it. He always waited at the roads, and even when I asked him to please wait further away from them he cooperated happily. If a child hasn’t the understanding to stay safe in this respect, we must accompany them more and stay in constant connection.
Young children find a very comfortable balance between autonomy and dependence, as long as they are allowed to and experience the first to their satisfaction.
I have heard parents say un-raising doesn’t work for them, their child needs boundaries. Such a thing is said when children haven’t had the opportunity to find their personal boundaries and comfort zone, but have been heteronomous and overpowered in the past. Autonomy takes some getting used to in this case. We call this phase the de-raising phase, in which child-raising techniques and their detrimental consequences seep away before self-awareness and self-trust flourish.
No child wants to be defiant. Children want to cooperate. If their will and autonomy aren’t overrun and a positive, friendly, nurturing tone is given, the peaceful paradigm will benefit everyone.
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!