In defence of boundaries

We have come so far from the terrible times that my dad tells me about when he was a child. He and his brothers would be beaten by the teachers simply for having a German surname.

Even when I was young, it was considered acceptable for parents to smack their children who were misbehaving. These days, such punishment is quite rightly frowned upon.

Increasingly, the focus is on raising well rounded, confident children. Giving them the building blocks to one day function as strong, independent adults.

Many people go as far as to avoid using certain words to their offspring, not telling them that they are good or naughty but instead suggesting an alternative activity when they are doing something undesirable.

This is often associated with attachment parenting and regarded as positive discipline. We are encouraged to understand that children often express their feelings through their behaviour.

I am all in favour of attachment parenting, in fact I’m one of its biggest advocates. Extended breastfeeding, babywearing, active listening – I do it all.

But I think somewhere in the theory or the application of it, something has gone wrong. We have stopped telling our children that their behaviour is unacceptable.

I’m not talking about punishing them, shouting at them or speaking unkindly. But childhood is for learning and to learn, we need to be told. Children are not born knowing right from wrong, they need guidance.

Sending children to school without the basic knowledge of how to behave is setting them up to fail. If that happy, confident child strolls into school having had no boundaries at all imposed on them at home, their confidence is going to take a bashing.

Today, we were in a café where some young children of a similar age to Libby were playing on one of the displays. Many of the things on there were breakable – and would have had sharp edges when they broke. There were also food items in the display that were for sale.

The children’s mother held a conversation with them about the fact they were in the display without mentioning that it wasn’t an acceptable place for them to play.

She then turned to her friend and said the words, “They’re so naughty.”

I beg to differ. Those children aren’t naughty, they are just children. Children like mine who need guidance as to what is right and wrong.

I don’t blame that mum, she’s trying her best like we all are. She didn’t come across as a mum that didn’t care, more as somebody who was trying to do the best by her children by acting the way the experts tell her to.

The thing that worries me is that I see it all the time. And I read about how we shouldn’t be using negative language to our children.

I’m not a psychologist, teacher or childcare professional, so what do I know? I know that every child deserves the best start in life. By not correcting a child you are going to cause problems for both that child and its peers.

We have already had an issue with bullying when a child was unkind to Libby. The child’s mother was standing nearby and chose to ignore it.

I read an article recently stating that there was currently a ‘bullying epidemic’ in schools. I can’t help but feel sorry for the bullies in the same way as the victims.

A child who is accused of bullying becomes labelled. “That child, the naughty one, the bully.” When in fact perhaps they are the victim.

The victim of a societal shift away from letting children know the difference between right and wrong. The victim of a parent who was trying to do the right thing, trying to instil confidence in their child.

The same child who is now being made to feel like a bad person for failing to make the right decision. A decision made by a small child without help, guidance or support from the people who love them the most.

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  1. March 9, 2016 / 7:47 pm

    Absolutely right. We try to teach through praise rather than negative comments but we still say no. Bear is learning that it’s OK to run and shout in the park but not whilst having lunch. That some things are mine and he’s not allowed to touch but other things are his and he can. Sometimes he knows but does it anyway lol. I do not think we are helping our little ones if they have no boundaries.

  2. March 10, 2016 / 8:38 pm

    You’re blaming attachment parenting but you should be blaming the parents for failing to set those boundaries.

    I have always identified with attachment parenting principles and have absolutely no issue pointing out rights and wrongs to my children. They have their moments – they’re kids, and lack the self discipline of adults – but certainly have boundaries and behavioural guidance.

    There’s a difference between not defining a child’s path by telling him/her they’re naughty/a bully, and completely failing to set the standards you would expect by explaining what behaviour is and isn’t appropriate.

  3. Agent Spitback
    March 10, 2016 / 9:49 pm

    I can so hear what you’re saying. I do agree that as parents, we do have to set boundaries most definitely as you’re right – how do the kids know it’s wrong if they’ve never been told? And a lot of issues in life is in the grey and sometimes even as adults, we ourselves find it hard to know what to do! We need to have our own strong moral compass and it is our duty to help our children develop one. Honesty is not in-born, it is learnt. You’re a parent, NOT a friend – that’s something some parents lose sight of!

  4. March 13, 2016 / 2:26 pm

    I tell my kids when they’re being naughty, when their behaviour is unacceptable and when, quite frankly, they’re pushing it. They know what sort of behaviour is nice and what isn’t and the way I see it, early years are for us to teach children manners and acceptable behaviours. If they haven’t got that by the time they start school it’s really hard to teach them – as usually by that point they have bad manners and unacceptable behaviours x

  5. March 15, 2016 / 12:00 pm

    There’s no help for bullies – you are right there. No questionning as to why they may be behaving that way.

  6. March 16, 2016 / 12:28 am

    Such a thought-provoking post. I agree with you that it is important that we teach our children the different between right and wrong, and that we set them boundaries. Encouraging positive behaviour is great and trying to avoid negative language can be good too but as you say, children are not born knowing the difference between right and wrong and it is our job as parents to help them with that. I do use the word “naughty” but I try to apply it to the behaviour and not label my children as naughty. It’s hard though if they go to school and end up with those kind of labels, because once they become labelled as “the bully/the naughty child” those labels are so hard to lose.

  7. March 16, 2016 / 1:06 pm

    Such a good post and you make a really good point. There needs to be boundaries somewhere. It doesn’t have to involve smacking and shouting, but children need to learn from a young age that some behaviours are wrong and why they are wrong. This way, they can go on to be the well-behaved, confident children we want them to be and, ultimately, well-rounded adults. Sadly without these boundaries, children are being set up to fail.

  8. March 17, 2016 / 9:55 am

    I agree with you and I think there are so many people out there that really don’t understand the whole positive/attachment/gentle parenting thing and assume it means they should be permissive. Which is a shame for the rest of us who actually understand it 😉

    One of my friends seems to think a consequence requires a smack, whereas I believe in logical consequence, they obviously see that as no consequence. Then there are people in the middle who don’t agree with smacking but don’t know how to enforce boundaries.

    Parenting is a tricky minefield

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