Updated: Feb 14
HOW PARENTS CAN USE BOUNDARIES TO HELP THEIR CHILDREN GROW
As a boy I spent lots of time waiting- for dull classes to end, for dinner queues to shorten, and for never-ending Sunday morning church services to finish. Occasionally too I found myself on a cricket field- somehow recruited into a game whose rules I never truly understood. Cricket opened my eyes to a whole different world of waiting- batters and bowlers waited their turn, fielders (usually me) waited for the ball to come their way, and spectators waited the whole time. Only fishing beats cricket when it comes to waiting. But the utter delight when the leather ball thwacked against the wooden bat- and pierced the air- made all that waiting worthwhile. I was thrilled as the ball soared through the air- would it ever come down? And then landed-outside of the boundary.
I can thank the game of cricket for introducing me the word boundary. To me it was a big word- an adult word- an important word. Later when I went to The Duke Of York's Royal Military School, a boarding school in Dover- I learnt much more about boundaries. Tight schedules, including school on Saturday, and parade on Sunday- homework between 6.30pm and 8.30 pm- glued this school together. There were rules for everything- from how we polished our shoes to how we walked to breakfast. Aged 18, I was sick of boundaries and rules. I was convinced that the rule enforcers were on power trips- so I rebelled against petty rule makers. Cigarettes, music, and 'Reclaim-the-steets', replaced my rule book. I idled my teenage years in Cambridge- quite convinced I was about to become a Rock star or a famous poet.
I met my wife when I was 18, at a party. We played each other songs on our guitars- taking turns, between cigarettes, and pints of Guinness. But this all changed- we quit smoking and moved to Edinburgh. I started a daily meditation and Tai Chi practice- which I'm still doing 26 years later! I had rediscovered boundaries- boundaries that served me- that made me feel safe and helped me focus and organise my life.
When I became a young dad (aged 22) I was clueless. My wife and I didn't have family support- our families lived miles away. So the Quakers in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Steiner school were a life line- through them I met parents and families- and learnt about children and the importance of boundaries. I discovered that healthy boundaries are supportive- they help children feel safe, so they can grow in confidence and independence. My wife and I were lucky enough to attend an amazing parent and toddler group. Corinna, the woman that held the group had 4 children- she was busy, and had little money- but she was also patient, kind, and firm. I learnt that boundaries can be respectful and nurturing. When children entered the room they took off their shoes and neatly put them away, before putting on cosy slippers. This was a simple boundary- but it helped the children feel safe. It eased the transition from the outside world to the toddler group. Many children struggle with transitions.
Supportive boundaries are put in place by caring adults who anticipate children's struggles. Corrina spoke kindly to the children. But she was firm: "Nathan, we don't hit Tommy. Tommy is eating his apple." She resolved conflicts simply. Often, by drawing the child back into the rhythmn of the group. The group rhythm held everyone- simple songs and verses- followed by warm juice and pieces of fruit. Then children put on their outdoor shoes- and it was home-time. The same rhythm every week. This was comforting for the children- they knew what to expect- they could relax, and enjoy.
You will have seen a sapling before- a young tree, newly planted. In the New Forest gardeners put a tube around the base. This protects the tree. It stops deer and sheep from devouring it. It's a protective boundary- put there so the tree can grow. When the tree is big enough- it won't need the boundary- it's own bark provides protection.
Parents are like gardeners- we protect and nurture- until children are strong to stand on their own.