Posted by: coachingparents | August 9, 2007

When Our Children Test Us and Challenge the Boundaries


“Raising Children is a creative endeavor, an art, rather than a science.”
–Bruno Bettelheim

I simply had to use the quote I chose for this article, because my 9 year old has found every way in the past month to test the boundaries and the parenting which is required in these circumstances is no less than creative.

  • Challenge number one- bedtime. For the past several years, bedtime had been at 8 o’clock sharp. I am a firm believer in children having enough sleep and my business day was going to end at 8 p.m. (I felt a 14 hour non- stop mom business day was sufficient, although still on call) whether my son was in agreement or not. This year however, given he is officially a 4th grader; we moved it to 8:30 so our youngest son would have time to fall asleep on his own. Of course night after night it has become a constant struggle to meet our 8:30 deadline as we proceed to push it to 9:00 o’clock. I pride myself on sticking to the boundary we have set, but my husband has some boundary issues of his own and it becomes a power struggle between the likeness of father and son. So the lesson to parent is this- once a time has been decided on, stick to it, because what we are ultimately teaching is the need to respect the rules of engagement. And so of course parent learns tough lesson or is frustrated in the process.
  • Challenge number two- you may only have two cookies. Each day my son will arrive home from school and his first concern is what kind of junk or how much “junk” he can acquire. Yes we refer to anything that contains sugar as junk and so I enter the kitchen only to find he has taken 3 cookies and will now be left with one. Lesson to parent- do not leave child unattended with anything that resembles a cookie or this boundary will also surely be tested.
  • Challenge number three- video games. The rule in our house is no video games during the school week. We allow our youngest son to play a little given he is not a school aged child with homework. Each day however, the controller is inevitably in my oldest son’s hands and the words “I am only helping Caden with something,” echo in my head. Lesson to parent- under no circumstances shall any child with boundary issues be allowed into the same room as a video game apparatus. (This particular boundary was challenged while I wrote this article.)

And finally, challenge number four- you may not play with so and so. I have been against weapons and violence with children of any kind. I am especially attentive to the affect children have on the mood or personality of my own children. We have a boy in our neighborhood that has absolutely no restrictions when it comes to weapons, video games, rough behavior and so forth. I have firmly stated they will not be allowed to play with said child as it ultimately leads to playing with guns or swords or rough behavior and without fail the boundary will be challenged under the guise- “but we are only playing football!” And so as you may well guess, lesson to parent- lock them in their room!
The moral of the story goes something like this. Of these above issues, we have as parents learned some valuable lessons. My husband has struggled gaining my oldest son’s respect; mostly because they are so much alike, but also because the boundaries set forth by us as the authority, is often negotiated. I have learned over time with this child in particular, he needs a very firm understanding of how something will be in order to flex his muscles. He needs a clear line drawn in the sand and often when my husband states a bedtime or a quantity of cookies allowed, my son will challenge it. Why? My husband often does not stick to his decision. What that creates is not only confusion by our child over the boundary he is to remain within, but it also causes a lack of trust in what his father says. Huge lesson for parents in this one. Trust is often lost when a child can’t rely on the decision of a parent.

Another experience which occurred in the past month offered up the opportunity for both parent and child to learn the boundary of sticking up for oneself. Our kids were home for a teacher work day and were playing outside with one of the neighbors. As children often do, this boy decided to play with another boy because the bribe of video games was too much to resist. We have all at some point chosen to play with the one who is doing something which is more fun than the kids you were playing with, but this deeply upset my son. He came in crying and extremely upset protesting he was ditched and friends don’t do that. He also pledged he would not play with him again that day. The tears continued for several minutes more as he expressed how his feelings were hurt. Boredom struck and the pledge turned to “but mom I got over it.” Here is the boundary we drew that day. Had he come in and simply said- “he decided to go play with someone else for now, but we will play later,” I would have had no problem allowing him the opportunity to play later that day, but he came in devastated and deeply wounded by hurt feelings. It became a lesson that day of sticking up for oneself and developing self worth I wish I had learned at that tender age. The jury is still out on whether he truly understood the value we established that day, but the imprint was made.

It is often too easy for us to set a boundary only later to negotiate our position. If we can observe the effect it has on our children in terms of their ability to trust what we say, we can often see the inconsistencies in our own experiences. Our children hold a mirror for us to reflect back the things we need to work on in our own lives. I have certainly had boundary issues in my lifetime and I hold appreciation for a child who mirrors those back to me.

© by Tara Paterson, All Rights Reserved

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