Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (February 28, 2014)
This series is on the theme of boundaries with children. In the same way that sports can only be played with boundaries of a court and rules of the game, children can only grow with boundaries to help them know what they should do and what they shouldn’t. Children without boundaries often end up seeming spoilt and wanting their way. In look at boundaries, I have introduced the 5Cs of effective boundaries:
Clarity – boundaries have to be clearly defined
Consistency – boundaries have to be consistently implemented
Consequences – consequences have to be given if boundaries are broken
Cooperation – different parties within the household have to cooperate to implement boundaries
Change – there is a need to change boundaries with time according to what is developmentally appropriate
We already looked at how it’s important to have clarity in giving boundaries. If expectations are not clearly defined and explained, it is difficult to understand and implement. For example, the boundary ‘sleep early’ isn’t clear but ‘sleep at 8pm’ is clear.
In this edition, I look at the importance of CONSISTENCY in giving boundaries. Having consistency really means staying the same. This rule for implementing boundaries is especially essential with young children. Toddlers and young children really need routine to feel secure and stable. For example, changing a toddler’s sleep schedule really affects the child’s emotions and rhythm – just ask any mom who’s had to travel with a child to another country with another time zone! Young children need patterns and routines to help them feel safe and that is also true when giving them boundaries.
Let’s give an example. Brian is 5 years old and he is told that he has to pack his own schoolbag before going to bed at night. Imagine on Monday he is told to pack it then on Tuesday he’s asked to sleep earlier, on Wednesday he’s asked to pack it the next morning and on Thursdays he’s asked to pack it himself before bedtime again. Poor Brian won’t know when he needs to pack it and what is expected of him. Worse still is if he gets punished for not packing one night – he probably didn’t know he had to!
I often meet parents who complain that their children are not responsible and don’t do what they’re told to. What I ask is whether the expectations and rules have been clearly defined and consistently implemented. Without clarity and consistency, it’s difficult to know what to do. Imagine a boss at work telling you to ‘give him a detailed report quickly’ – but you don’t know what kind of detail he is looking for and when the deadline is, it’s hard to do what’s right.
To be honest, consistency in giving boundaries isn’t something I’m very good at. For some of our classes with older students, we ask students to bring their weekly journal for us to see. When students come into class and tell me they forgot to bring their book, I often led it slide choosing to focus on other important things in the lesson. In those cases, I felt like I had other things to focus on. But what I realized was that the students in my class stopped bringing this weekly journal in all together because I wasn’t consistently checking! Students in other classes who had teachers that consistently asked for the journal have religiously been bringing their journals to class. I realized that I couldn’t reprimand my students for not doing what I had told them when I wasn’t consistent in what I was expecting from them.
That’s not to say that we have to be rigid and uncompromising. It’s one thing to be consistent but it’s another to be unreasonably rigid. For example, a boundary that might be set is that your child has to say hi to people with a smile, give eye contact and say ‘hello’. But imagine your child is sick one day or slept very late the night before, it’s ok that they don’t say hello with all those elements. So in the limits of boundaries, there is grace and understanding.
Let’s help our children grow to be responsible and reliable adults by giving them clear and consistent boundaries to grow with!