Do Children Crave Boundaries

There is this pervasive idea even in respectful parenting circles that children crave boundaries. They go so far as to suggest that certain behaviour is actually a cry for parental enforced limits. They could be asking to wear your shoes, they could be trying to climb a railing, they could be asking for ice cream for breakfast. And people will tell you this child doesn’t actually want to try your shoes or climb or eat ice cream; what they actually want is for you to give them boundaries (ie. the kindest way people have figured out to phrase control).

This to me has to be one of the scariest ideas ever; that somebody else could decide for a person if what they are saying and doing is valid or not. That we would not hear what a person is actually saying or doing or being but project what most parents seem to want that answer to be; though they may be indicating something that conflicts with the parent’s desires, what they really want is for the parent to be in charge. Isn’t that just so convenient?

Yeah, a little too convenient.

So when do you know that they are interested in what they are actually suggesting they are or they are asking for your dominance? Where is the line? It seems to be wherever coincides with the parent’s expectations and preference.

Can you imagine if we applied this to adults?

Actually, most people already understand how unacceptable that would be. When somebody tries to justify their actions against another by explaining that although the person said no, their behaviour said yes. Or they said no but what they chose to wear said yes. Or they said no but their reputation said yes. We do not find this even remotely okay.

So why would it be okay to reinterpret what our children are saying and doing for our benefit?

I’m not saying an adult cannot have personal boundaries. If your child is climbing on your body and that is not a situation you are comfortable with then you are within your right to communicate that. You can empathise and find solutions together that meet both of your needs; if they are wanting to connect with you, then a way you are both comfortable doing so or if they are wanting to climb, something different to climb. There is no need to enforce a boundary by pretending it is for their benefit or what they are REALLY asking from you.

So why do parents pretend? Because they aren’t just making choices based on their agency, they are wanting to encroach on their child’s. They need justification for making choices beyond their sphere of ownership. They want an admissible reason to enforce arbitrary boundaries.

This idea that children are craving boundaries feels like an exploitable “get out of control free” card. A pass for parents to take the actions most convenient for them without having to assess their own motivations.

That’s not to say that people are always direct in their communication. Sometimes people are not completely conscious in understanding the feeling or need behind their own choices. But that doesn’t become any easier when you have somebody trying to decide for you how you actually feel. Perhaps that would even inspire a person to steer clear of reconsidering their perspective; their focus now being on convincing this other party about the validity rather than exploring it.

Meeting a person at their word always feels appropriate. It communicates that you will hear somebody, always. It tells them that there are no conditions to your attention to their needs. This is so important within a connected relationship.

Either they will continue in a similar fashion because it was inspired by a genuine desire and you can figure out together how to make that a reality that suits everybody or the actual reason will emerge as they have the support and security to process their thoughts and impulse towards clarity. The truth is that masking is often a reaction that develops from mistrust; of others and of self.

If you are the one to determine for them what they mean? That will further the disconnect and likelihood of continued miscommunication. If you hear them, even if it doesn’t seem to make complete sense to you, even if it isn’t convenient then they will feel safe that you will be there for them, regardless of the reason. And therefore more able to explore their inner catalysts.

Follow the motivation… it is parents who benefit most from this concept being true, it is parent’s who are most invested in it. Think about it, aren’t your children pretty aware that you are available to offer guidance? If that is what they are seeking, they aren’t going to be evasive about it, why would they need to be?

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  1. I grew up in a household which used, despite the lack of the buzzword in the 90s, “respectful parenting.” My mum was very loving and present but gosh I craved boundaries! There were times I honestly was desperate for her to be in charge, to put her foot down, to take choices out of my hands, even as a teenager.

    Just another perspective.

    1. I do think sometimes when we look back at our childhood with adult eyes, we see our mistakes and we think they could have been avoided if somebody else had responsibility for our life. But responsibility is personal and “mistakes” are a part of learning and living. Would it really have made for a better existence to have been forced to live a different one? What is it you wanted to be different exactly? What is it you actually want to change?

      I also believe if a child is wanting some input from their parent then I believe that can be (and should be) a consensual and honest process where the parent and child navigate the need together. Not just a parent assuming and enforcing arbitrarily based on completely irrelevant filtered observation.

      1. “This to me has to be one of the scariest ideas ever; that somebody else could decide for a person if what they are saying and doing is valid or not.”

        Isn’t your reply to Cathy (the first paragraph) telling her that what she’s thinking and saying is invalid?

        1. Considering it opens with the phrase “I think” indicating it is my personal opinion and then follows with “sometimes” indicating that it is not always the case; no. I’m just offering the perspective based on my experience, the questions are things I used to explore my own feelings relating to my childhood to trace them back to their specific origins to process them.

  2. I think some boundaries are necessary. Like when a parent yells “Stop” the child should stop. Why? Because the parent may well have a damned good reason to be yelling “Stop”, having perceived something ahead that the child hasn’t seen. And occasionally a mistake isn’t learned from because the mistake was fatal.

    1. That to me has nothing to do with boundaries. We do not have parental enforced boundaries but an honest and trusting relationship therefore my children hear me because they value my input in the same way I value theirs. If a parent has always had good reason to offer their perspective, the child is more likely to appreciate that is the case in the future. If a parent is arbitrary in their interjection, the child is more likely to figure that is the case in the future.

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