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‘Soft’ Boundaries… Why That’s NOT A Contradiction?!

How do you make kids do what you want them to do, without ending up in combat, or being the authoritarian parent most of us don’t want to be?

A question popped up in my FB group this week was about setting boundaries, and they’re worth exploring further, because achieving co-operation and setting boundaries are inevitably intertwined.

Most of us frequently grapple with the ‘please just do as you’re told’ battles, but the reason implementing boundaries can be so difficult is because nobody wants the conflict that often ensues.

Screens are a classic example; especially now, because Covid-boredom has turned many children into screen-addicts (mine included).
Any kind, but especially the smaller types, fire up the ‘addiction centre’ in your child’s brain, potentially add a whole added layer of challenge.

It takes their ‘thinking brains’ offline, but fuels up adrenaline, making the ‘fight/flight’ response much more likely.
Hence why ’time’s up now’ can be a real bone of contention, and why ‘5 more minutes’ so easily turns into 30.

Fulfilling parenting is less about ‘Who wins that battle?’ and more about you both operate, and co-operate, together, and yet these situations often disintegrate into warfare.

Especially while we’ve got far too much on our own plate, it’s too easy for our big ego to step in and insist ‘I’m the parent and I am in charge’.
Regardless of the issue, we insist that the same blanket-rule should apply.

But it’s that inflexibility and rigidity that can dismantle all our ‘peaceful parenting’ dreams, in a heartbeat.

So how do you encourage your kids to work with you, not against you?

This is the first necessary shift in our thinking;
The majority of what we think of as a behaviour or attitude problem is more accurately a communication problem.

So in the interests of staying out of that space, here are 5 principles for more peaceful, and more effective, communication with your kids!

1) Tune into triggers
Tune into their weak spots and trigger points; if your child hates setting the table, is it SO important that they do? Can they do another task and still be helpful?
If the situation doesn’t allow you to diversify your approach; i.e. getting ready for school on time and not at their own pace, for example; all is not lost! See point 2! 👇   

2) Managing Time
Give your children as much notice as you can around those points, offering countdowns wherever possible; i.e. 10 more mins, 5, 2 and 1.
If screen-time’s the issue, don’t expect them to have an accurate sense of time passing, so setting an alarm offers an additional sensory reminder, too.
If you involve them choosing the ringtone, even better, because having a sense of ‘personal power’ in the proceedings; rather than being overpowered; is key to avoiding combat.

3) Have the REALLY heard you?
Don’t assume that, because your child appears to have registered what you’ve said, that they have; when they just want you off their back they’re not really tuned into information-processing.
So when you give a countdown, ask them to look up, and at you, and to repeat them back. You’ll know they’ve heard you, they’ll know that you know that they heard you. Sensory information sticks better, so add a visual cue by showing them with your hands as well.

4) Give ‘Choice and Voice’
Don’t be afraid to give your kids choices. Yes, they may want it their ‘own way’, but they also probably don’t like fighting anymore than you do.
So, for example, BEFORE the trigger point arises, explain the situation, your concerns or whatever, then ask for their input; i.e. ‘How much ice-cream do we think you should have?’

‘We’ positions you as deciding together, and who doesn’t cooperate better when they’ve had a stake in the decision making process?
It then stands to reason that it’s easier to implement boundaries because your child’s agreed to them already.

5) The Power of Wiggle-Room!
There’s a lot of power in a little negotiation! If agreeing to two more minutes is the difference between a meltdown or not, it’s not you ‘giving in’.
Just ensure there’s compromise on both sides.
It’s not always easy or even successful, but; while compliance makes for an easy life; there are a whole lot of skills we can be nurturing in our kids (and ourselves!) when we don’t just insist on us being ‘in charge’ all the time.

Boundaries are needed for everyone; they make for a security, predictability and consistency; all very useful for children who’ve lived with a great deal of uncertainty in recent times; but they don’t have to be an electric fence! 💥

They can be soft and light, and when they are, our children – and their parents – tend to feel better, and thus manage better.       

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This post is also shared by Neurochild Pty, a community group focused on “brains as living systems, growing healthy brains to grow a healthy world”.
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