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Why Children Need Boundaries
Episode 141 β€’ 15th February 2024 β€’ How Not to Screw Up Your Kids β€’ Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:23:03

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Parenting isn't a popularity contest. It's about making the difficult decisions, because we're playing the long game AND it won't make us popular. Boundaries allow children to grow and become the resilient adults we all want them to be.

Here are the highlights: 

{0:40} Positive parenting does not mean equal terms friendship

{2:00} What do we mean by boundaries?

{5:28} You children will hate you regularly as they grow up!

{7:40} Do you have unresolved childhood challenges?

{9:41} Children need a healthy sense of self

{13:00} Are you sharing learnable experiences or oversharing?

{17:15} Narrow lanes build resilience!

{18:25} Your relationship with your child is ever evolving

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Hello and welcome to the How Not to Screw Up Your Kids podcast. So, pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 141 and today's episode, Why Children Need Boundaries.

I want to talk about why boundaries themselves are important, but also some of the more subtle nuances of when and how. Let me give you a bit more of an explanation. Now, I believe, I've been sort of reading quite a bit around this at the moment, and there's been a lot that's been written about how parents have fallen into this trap and how we should stop being our children's best friends, how we're no longer parenting properly.

Now, I believe that we have mistakenly taken the notion of this notion of positive parenting, let's give it a label. So, what we've mistakenly taken that positive parenting to mean is, to do with keeping communication lines open, encouraging our children to make healthy choices for themselves, giving them the freedom to make mistakes whilst loving and nurturing our relationship with them. What's happened is I think we've mistakenly thought of that as the same as equal terms friendship.

And we've ended up with a situation where we have inadvertently become, or we're trying to become, our children's best friend. So, this is how I think, for me, it's playing out. So, this episode is really about how do we switch that back into a balance where we are making really clear boundaries.

It doesn't mean that we don't want to have a relationship with our children. Of course, we want to have a relationship with our children, but it's about making sure that that's the right kind of relationship. So, what do I mean by boundaries? So, what am I talking about when I say we need them? Now, I like to think of boundaries as parameters around which we want our children to operate, to behave, to grow, to develop in any particular given situation.

So, think of it, maybe if parameters doesn't work for you, think of it as a lane, like a swimming lane or a running lane. Now these lanes, depending on the situation, will vary in their flexibility. So, in some situations, there'll be a really large bandwidth, the lane will be really wide, really broad, and they can operate within that breadth.

And in others, the lane is super narrow, the width is super, super narrow. Okay, so let me give you some examples. So, some narrow lanes, examples of those, in my view, should be around tech and devices in bedrooms at night.

In fact I think that that particular one about tech in bedrooms at night is where we as parents don't enforce boundaries well. And I think that's quite often where we end up trying to play best friends, not deliberately, not intentionally, but this is the way that it tends to work out. And so, what tends to happen in those situations is that our children and our teens tend to call the shots.

I have to have the phone in my bedroom because it's my alarm. I have to have the phone in my bedroom because it's what I listen to my audiobooks on, or my relaxation, mindfulness, or calm app, or whatever it is, or I need to be able to be in contact with friends if anything happens. So, I think that it's those sort of scenarios for me where the parameters and the width of that lane should be supremely narrow, and in fact, maybe even a dead end.

So that's an example of a narrow one, whereas a wider one, for example, might be eating out at a restaurant. So, what happens in that sort of situation is the bandwidth, the lane is much broader because we're allowing our children in lots of ways to choose what they want to eat. We're more flexible with that one.

We can flex it a little bit. Another example of a sort of a wide lane may well be around friendships, who our children choose to be their friends, who they play with, who they spend time with. We're more flexible in those parameters because we want them to learn and develop and to grow, and to make the choice of friends themselves, and to learn good friends and not so good friends.

We also tend to flex the width of these parameters with our children's age and stage and their maturation. So, a child who has repeatedly demonstrated a responsible attitude to boundaries is likely to have their lane widened. So that might be boundaries around bedtime.

It might be boundaries of getting that homework done. What tends to do is as our children show evidence that they're able to be independent and to make responsible choices and act in a responsible way whilst being sort of adherent to the boundaries that we set, then what we typically can do and what's a really great idea is to then increase the bandwidth. Now, I want you to remember when you're thinking about this because boundaries can be a really tricky one as parents.

And I'm going to talk my tips today. Some of it are very specific things that you can do and some of them are very specific things I want you to stop doing. And I want you to be mindful that you may or may not be doing this.

But I want you to remember this one important truth. And I say this with love. Your children are going to hate you regularly as they grow up.

Yeah, because parenting is all about making difficult decisions because we, as their parents, we're playing the long game. Yeah, it's very easy to make the yes and to say and to allow our children to do things that we don't want them to do in those moments. That's a quick win.

We don't get into arguments. There are no issues, but we're playing a long game. We are raising resilient adults.

Remember, it's the building that is under construction that needs the solid foundations, which are around values, beliefs and boundaries. And then as we scaffold that rising building and catching that falling masonry, we want to ensure that that building that our children are going to inhabit meets building regulations. And that's why boundaries are really important.

So, I say this with love. They are going to hate you. They're going to tell you they hate you or they're going to be thinking that.

And we must get OK with that. OK, so this will mean that you are likely to battle with your child around a whole host of issues, you know, why they can't have X when all their friends do, why they can't come home at X time when all their friends get to stay up, why they can't have tech in their bedrooms when everyone else is allowed to. So, as I work through the five points that I'm going to cover in the podcast today, I just want you to bear that in mind and to know that every other parent is going to be going through the same issues as you.

They may not be at the same time. And please do not be fooled by the Insta Facebook perfect families, because everybody is going to be having children that will be saying that their parents are unkind and not fair. And I hate you and you're so mean.

All right. So, I just want you. I might have laboured the point a little bit, but I think it's important that we remember that because we so often take this comparison view and look at this lens at other parents and assume that they're not having the similar challenges to us.

So, let's park that now. And I want to go through five specific reasons why it is really supremely important that we have boundaries and some things I want you to do. The first one is specifically about around boundaries.

It's this idea about unresolved challenges from our own childhood. Yeah, there's one of the reasons why we don't create boundaries, because we may have had a really difficult relationship with our parent. Maybe they were emotionally unavailable, unavailable to us.

Maybe they were verbally abusive. Maybe they were super strict. And when we were children or as we grew up and we became adults, or as we discovered that we were going to become a parent, we vowed that we would be completely different to our parents.

So, this in lots of ways, and I say this with love, can be one of the most problematic issues, because what we are doing with our in terms of not creating those boundaries is what we're actually doing is that we are trying to resolve our own childhood issues, the trauma, the difficulties, the challenges that we had with our child's childhood. And that can have pretty dangerous consequences because we step over a boundary by imposing a friendship relationship with our children, which they may not want. Friendships are choices.

Parenting is not. So, it's what we do to help our children build their home and become resilient. That's what parenting is about.

So, it's really important that we take a bit of a step back if we're feeling that we're not creating boundaries sufficiently and actually step back and say, am I in some ways not making those difficult choices, really trying to connect with my child? And I've maybe I've allowed the pendulum to swing just that little bit too far because I'm so desperate not to repeat history, not to parent the way my parents parented me. And as a result, I've not created really healthy boundaries. And instead, I've really tried to adopt that line of being that my child's friend rather than their parent.

So that's number one. Number two is about making sure the reason why we have boundaries, the reason why they're so crucial and so important to our children is that they help them develop a healthy sense of self. So, it's about them seeing that they are separate to us.

It's a really important thing for children to be able to have and to learn because it helps them discover who they are independent of us. Now, obviously, really tiny children, really young children don't have that sense of self yet. It comes.

They see us as an inherent part of who they are. When we don't set boundaries, we deprive them of that. Yeah.

So, what we do when we try to become their friends and we don't set these difficult boundaries is we inhibit the sense of self from happening. Teens who don't develop a healthy sense of self are much more likely to struggle with mental health issues as they go through the teen years and into their adult life, as well as suffering from a lack of self-awareness and self-esteem. It's therefore so crucial to be supportive of inherently who they are and their need to grow separate and distant from us while we continue to parent them and provide guidance.

And actually, this healthy sense of self, this healthy sense of identity and being beyond us is the really crucial piece as our children transition and our teens transition from being our children and living with us to eventually then becoming adults and being independent and living independently of us. And I've certainly read a lot around this, and I really love the analogy that in lots of ways we have to reach a point where our children are at that stage where they can't wait to move out, they've had enough of us, we're suffocating them, they just need that space. But nature has this incredible way of, in lots of ways, our children reach that point, our teens and young adults reach that point around a similar time that as parents, we're getting ready to let go.

And so, if you can kind of think of it as that, but our role as a parent is in order to help our children build that building and then to then live in it. So, our role is to help them move out of home, is to help them take those next steps, those independent steps. And when we try to be their friend, quite often what's then happening is that we inhibit, we suffocate their ability to grow and to develop and to have that sense of who they are, what are their values, how do they choose to live their life by, what are those values and things that are non-negotiable to them, and who are they, what is their character, what's important to them.

Those are really important aspects. So, the first one around not having boundaries is what often happens when we don't have boundaries is because we have these unresolved challenges from our own childhood that we're almost trying to fix through our children's childhood, and that can take us down the path of being more of their best friend than their parent. And when we don't set boundaries, what we do is we inhibit our children's ability to create and develop a healthy sense of self.

Number three, which I think is another, and this can be a bit of a subtle one that we need to kind of need to consider, and I'm going to give you some examples here. Sharing our experiences is different to oversharing. So, there is a very clear line between you talking about situations that you have faced and resolved, and having your child become your confidant.

So, no child should be burdened with adult challenges, whether that's a poor relationship we have post-separation from their other parent, whether that's financial struggles, whether that's work. The key distinction is, is it instructive? When we're talking to our children about things, what we're sharing with them, is it instructive? Can they learn something which is relevant to their own day-to-day situation, and can I communicate it in a way which is accessible for my child to use for their own personal growth? If the answer is not a yes to all of those, then it's oversharing. So, we might, for example, feel that we need to explain about how we are being bullied at work by someone who we feel is forcing us out as a way of teaching our children to be able to stand up for themselves.

You know, it seems a reasonable thing. We're sharing an experience that we're having relevant at work, and we're sort of using that as an example for our children who may well be over generous, and who aren't creating boundaries with their own friendship. But what this does instead is create uncertainty and fear in your child, who should be free in lots of ways to revel in that wonder that is childhood, and joy, and you know, as long as they possibly can, instead of this notion that they've got to kind of share the realities of life, and that life is hard.

It's different to, for example, sharing a blow-up that you had with a friend in year five, and how you managed to resolve it, even if you didn't resolve it, and you and that best friend ended up parting ways, and you are no longer friends. What we have to remember is there are some things that we overshare with our children that creates this worry. Financial is probably one that we often find ourselves caught in the trap of, and we do it inadvertently when we're really trying to curb our children, when they've got sort of lots of desires for things, and they're asking for things, and they want things, and we're trying to explain to them that, you know, money doesn't grow on trees, and you know, things are financially difficult.

I think there is this very fine line with this sharing our experiences and oversharing, because what can happen is in our desire for our children to understand that there is a value to money, and that you can't just have everything you want whenever you want it. That's a different, and that's a very clear boundary, and that's sharing experiences which are useful, as opposed to, you know, we can barely make ends meet, I don't know how we're going to pay for x, this is so worrying, whereas what then happens is what we do is we, our children then in lots of ways become our confidant, and that creates a whole load of fear and anxiety with them. Some of these distinctions can be really, really subtle, and the only way to do this is to take a step back, and to ask yourself, am I going through a particular challenge at the moment? How am I communicating that challenge to my children? And this is not about when you're going through a particular challenge, whether that's work, whether that's with relationships, whether that's financial, that you shouldn't, your children shouldn't be aware of that.

We're not trying to keep secrets, but what we're trying to do is make sure that we only share what is instructive and helpful, and information that our children can access and to use, rather than them becoming a sounding board, or where they become the subject of our own big emotions and our own stresses around a particular challenge that we're facing. So, we just need to be really mindful of that. Number four, and this is about why boundaries are really important, is narrow lanes build resilience.

The freedom to make choices, make mistakes, face challenges, and overcome is the quickest way to raise resilient adults. When we get over-involved, we inhibit, we get in the way of our children's development. It's like we're choking and stunting their growth.

Of course, we don't do this on purpose, because we're trying to help and support them, but it's being really clear that when we set narrow lanes, when we're really clear about the boundaries in which our children operate, and we do that by communicating regularly with them, and reviewing boundaries, and making them age and stage and development appropriate. But it's really important that we set those boundaries, because those boundaries and the parameters of those boundaries then allow our children to make choices, knowing the bandwidth that they're able to make that within. They're able to make those mistakes and know that it's not going to be catastrophic, and that they can face challenges that they can overcome very easily.

The fifth one that I would say is about understanding that our relationship with our children is going to be ever evolving. Boundaries are really needed, and they're really crucial, and they tend to be pretty rigid when our children are super young. It's often those ones tend to be very rigid and very narrow, because it's about keeping them safe.

We want to make sure that they're fed, they're nurtured, and they're getting what they need. As they get older, we can begin to flex those boundaries a little bit more and involve older children and teens in some of the bigger decisions that we need to make on their behalf. But when they're younger, we have to create those boundaries, we have to create those parameters.

How they operate within those, that's where we develop their independence, and their thinking skills, and their choices, so that they can work within those. But it's crucial that we set those boundaries, because A, children feel so much safer when they're operating through boundaries. It makes a big difference to their well-being, and their safety, and their knowing that things are as they are, when we keep those boundaries really clear, and then we begin to review them.

So, let's just go through these five, because I've approached it in a slightly different way. So, some of them are things I don't want you to do, and some of the things I want you to be mindful of, and some of the things I want you to start actioning. So, the first one is, take a step back.

As with all of these, you need to do a little bit of an audit, you need to do a little bit of reflection, when you're thinking about this. Is that, are you, in some ways, working through your own childhood unresolved challenges, in the way that you're parenting? And have you crossed a line with that? There's nothing wrong in wanting to have a good relationship with your child, being able to communicate with your child, and be emotionally available, but have you stepped it too far? Have you then become their best friend, without then creating those difficult decisions as a parent, in those boundaries? So that's number one. Number two, is being aware that when we stifle our children, and when we get too much into that friend zone with them, we're stifling their ability to have a healthy sense of self.

We're getting in the way of that. They need to be able to identify who they are, beyond us. So again, it's just thinking about, have we crossed a line there? Have we gone too far? Let's reel it back in.

The third one, is about being mindful, that when we share experiences, that we need to be mindful that we are sharing relevant, appropriate, actionable, accessible experiences that are relevant to our children, rather than using our child as a confidant and oversharing. Number four, is remembering that narrow lanes are the ones that build resilience. They're the ones that our children understand the parameters with which they are operating in, so that they're free to make choices, to make mistakes, and to face challenges and overcome, because that's the fastest route to resilience.

And number five, is remembering that these relationships are going to be ever evolving, and that the parameters and the boundaries are, the parameters and the width of the lane, are likely to change with our children's developing age and stage of development. And as they get older, what we will then be doing, is we'll be involving them as teens and as young adults, in terms of what those boundaries are for their future life choices. So, my give this week will be these top five, these very specific five, in a checklist, because they're going to be actionable ones and things that you're going to need to refer back to.

As always, all you need to do is head over to my free resource library,, where you'll find the link to download the resources. All you need to do is pop in your email address and you'll get instant access, not only to this week's resource, but all the other free resources across all my other podcast episodes. As ever, if you have enjoyed this episode, I would love it if you could follow, rate, and review this podcast, so that others can find us, and we can spread the love.

So, until next time…





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