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Boundaries #5 – Cooperation

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (March 29, 2014)

This series has been on the importance of setting boundaries in helping children learn and thrive. Without boundaries, children don’t feel safe and don’t learn proper behaviours. In looking at boundaries, I have highlighted the ‘5Cs’ of setting boundaries.

So far, we’ve looked at:

  1. Clarity – where we talked about how boundaries have to be clearly defined and clearly conveyed to children in a way that is suitable for their age

  2. Consistency – where we talked about how boundaries have to be consistently implemented and not in a haphazard manner

  3. Consequences – where we looked at how boundaries not only have to be implemented but consequences have to be given if boundaries are broken. This incentivizes children to actually adhere to boundaries being given

In this article, I’d like to discuss the 4th ‘C’ – Cooperation.

4. Cooperation – where different parties within the household have to cooperate to implement boundaries

One thing I remember my pastors teaching me and my husband in pre-marital counseling was that when we have children, we, as husband and wife, must always be united when dealing with our children. Even though we may have personal opinions and differences in our perspectives, we must come together to form a united front and convey the same message to our children. Otherwise children get confused, take sides and try and get out of things. For example, my husband may have the viewpoint that it’s okay for children to play on their iPads during dinner and I may have a different viewpoint which believes that children should engage in conversations with others at the dinner table. They are opposing views and it is our responsibility to come to a mutual consensus about what our family boundaries are and then present them to our children. So, for example, we might come to a compromise and say that children are only allowed to play on an iPad after finishing their dinner when there are no other guests at the table. If that is our boundary, then both my husband and me have to cooperate to implement it.

One observation I have made in some parents I have met is the opposing views that parents hold. For example, I once met a dad with a toddler who really believed in the importance of manners and having his daughter say please and thank you before getting something. He shared with me that his wife, however, didn’t hold the same beliefs and gives their daughter what she wants before the daughter says please or thank you. You can imagine whom the daughter goes to when she wants something! In such a household, there is no consistency in the boundaries given to the child and it is a lack of cooperation that has caused it.

Beyond needing cooperation between parents, there needs to be cooperation between members of the extended family. This is usually most challenging when it involved grandparents! Grandparents tend to dote on their grandchildren and let them get away with things that parents may not. If grandparents are the primary care giver, it makes the situation more challenging.

Another party to engage in cooperation is helpers. Many families in Hong Kong have helpers who are sometimes the primary caregivers of the children. If helpers and parents have very different boundaries and expectations, children learn the boundaries of each person and take advantage of it. I have seen children that have thrown things at their helpers and get away with it, and I know they would not have gotten away with it had it been their parents. Parents, train and empower your helpers to implement the same boundaries as you do – it will help your child more than anything.

So cooperation is essential in implementing effective boundaries. Parents, work together to discuss core family values and boundaries, then share them with extended family and helpers. You’ll see the effectiveness of cooperation in the development of your child.

Stay tuned for the final ‘C’ in the last installment in this series – Change. We will look at in addition to the 4Cs listed above, parents need to change boundaries with time according to what is developmentally appropriate. Stay tuned!


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