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Boundaries #6 – Change

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (April 12, 2014)

This series has been on the topic of Boundaries, and looking at how to set effective boundaries to help your children grow and flourish. Boundaries are what allow you to discipline in a consistent, loving way to help a child understand what are best attitudes and behaviours. In looking at boundaries, we have looked at the 5Cs of boundaries:

  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

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

And this installment brings us to the last ‘C’ – Change. It may seem incongruent to talk about the importance of consistency of boundaries and then talk about change. However, the change we are talking about is longitudinal change.

I remember when I was in primary school when I was about 9 years old, my parents had some friends who allowed their children to take the lifts in their apartment building themselves. One day, the lift stopped and the children were trapped in the lift. After hearing that story, my parents ensured that my younger sister and I always had an adult to accompany us in lifts. That was a strict boundary that was set for us and I remember sometimes getting annoyed because I had to wait for an adult to come join us every time in the lift. My parents were very consistent with this boundary and ensured that we didn’t overstep it. However, about a year or two later, my parents decided that I was old enough to take the lift by myself and taught me what to do should I get trapped. Henceforth, they changed the boundary so that I could take the lift by myself. I was very pleased about that!

Now imagine that my parents didn’t change the boundary according to my developmental abilities – I’d still be waiting for someone to accompany me in the lift as a teenager! So boundaries have to be consistent on a day-to-day basis but need to change according to developmental progressions.

My suggestion would be to reassess boundaries for children every year. In the same way that schools work on a year-by-year level and set different expectations and boundaries for children, it would be helpful to work consistently with the school year. So for example, in Primary One, the expectation may be that children have to pack their own schoolbags with daily essentials; in Primary Two, the expectation may be that children have to remember which days they have special activities, like swimming class, and remember when to pack appropriate items for that. By Primary Six, children should be able to manage their own belongings and schedules.

Every child has different abilities and every family has different expectations so that will be reflected in boundaries set but I encourage parents to sit down to discuss how to help their children succeed by defining boundaries in a clear way, keeping them consistent, working out consequences, getting cooperation from all family members and then making regular changes according to children’s development.

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