Think of a time you let yourself get lost in a moment. Perhaps you stared into the sky and let your eyes wander without a thought in your mind …
Remember the excitement, peace, openness and wonder?
Our children have these moments too. When they find a dragonfly in the grass and crouch low to study its translucent wings, or when they ride their bike at lightning speed to see how fast they can go. However, before they can wonder, explore, let go and learn, a sense of safety is essential to their being. Our kids need physical safety in order to learn to walk or ride a bike. They also need emotional safety to learn how to wonder. Emotional safety is the knowledge that one’s feelings will not be hurt, integrity will not be compromised, and sense of self will not be threatened. As parents, we can cultivate a sense of wonder and ensure emotional safety for our kids by setting boundaries in our families. Boundaries are like fences – they are the edge of the yard in which the safety to explore and play is promised. They act as a guide, not as a threat. Boundaries are necessary for our kids to learn, grow and wonder about the beautiful life they are living.
Here are four boundaries for emotional safety:
Questions don’t have to have answers.
Questions can provoke anxiety in children. Kids often learn to answer questions with what they think is the right answer, even if there is no right answer. Other times, kids don’t want to talk so they reply, “I don’t know,” even if they know something. Having boundaries around questions in your family helps kids feel safe and in control. Teaching kids it’s OK to say, “Let me think about that,” or “I don’t feel like talking about it right now,” helps them to express how they are feeling. This empowers them and leaves room for the questions to bounce around in their minds for a little while.
Modeling: Knowing how you answer questions that others ask you is vital. Your kids learn from you. A great response to model to your kids is: “That’s a good question. I am not sure what the answer is, but let’s talk about it.”
Respect all thoughts and ideas.
Kids can be very self-conscious at a young age. They especially worry what other kids are thinking. Do they think I’m dumb? Will I get called names? It is important to teach kids to be respectful of everyone’s ideas. Name calling and teasing are harmful to children’s emotional safety. When you hear your kids call someone a name, make sure to let them know it is not OK. Give them a chance to try again with something kind. When my daughter tells my son he is “so dumb” because he is bugging her, instead I help her to say something like, “I don’t like that.” This allows her to express how she feels without diminishing her brother.
Modeling: Show your kids how to be respectful by paying attention to your language for others. Do you call people names under your breath in traffic? It might be hard, but showing respect means finding a way to say how you feel without putting someone else down.
Always tell the truth.
Truth-telling is crucial for healthy boundaries in families or relationships. Teaching your children the truth is imperative. It helps them understand the difference between positive or negative affirmation in their actions, and why accountability for their behavior matters. Encouraging truth-telling may help avoid putting your child in a position to lie. My kids often lie about brushing their teeth. So instead of asking, “Did you brush your teeth?” I have learned to say, “Let me smell your breath.” If you know your child is lying about something, you can try to get to the truth by saying, “I know that you are lying to me because you don’t want to do that/don’t want to get in trouble/are worried about my reaction, but it is always important to tell the truth.”
Modeling: Do you always tell the truth about everything? Or do you ever do something your spouse is not a fan of and tell your kids not to tell Dad? Kids pay attention and notice when someone isn’t following the rules or telling the truth. Tell the truth even when you think it isn’t a big deal so that your kids learn there are no exceptions.
Do you find yourself busy and rushing kids around to fi t everything into the day? Our kids learn to be busy and become impatient with others too. Patience is one of the greatest skills you can possess as an adult. Patience helps kids cultivate space for wonder. When you see your kids being impatient, remind them to take a deep breath and wait. I often give my kids a job to do while they use their patience: “I need you to be patient. See if you can count to 100 while you wait.”
Modeling: In order to teach kids to be patient, we have to be patient with them. Remember that kids need extra time to do things. Build time into your routine so you are not saying “Hurry up!” whenever you have to leave the house. Boundaries cultivate a sense of wonder by creating safety in a child’s world. When children feel safe, they have the power to do anything, be anything and try anything. They have the power to let go, to explore and to wonder about life.
Krissy Dieruf is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has always loved working with kids, especially the ones with crazy hair and a rebellious streak. She often finds herself singing and dancing around the house and tries not to embarrass her three children too much.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Hello, Dearest. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.