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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Clear Communication, Boundaries and Limits

One of the first things that resonated with me when I began to explore 'loving limits' in parenting was the idea that limits and boundaries keep us safe. Not just physically, but emotionally. I knew I didn't want to be a parent who squashes their child's personality under a list of rules. But I could feel intuitively that parents who set no limits at all do not in fact, give their child a wonderful sense of freedom and autonomy - they give them a huge world to live in that isn't at all contained. Even for me as a grown up, that's a scary thought.

There is a sweet spot somewhere between crushing authority and permissive boundary-less horizons. And it lies in containing the unsafe world, without containing my child at the same time. I've got to tell you, I don't hit the sweet spot all the time, but I'm getting better at knowing where it is. It's taken me some trial and error to find it, and I have the bruised ego (and occasionally body) to show for it. But if you like, I can show you what that sweet spot looks like in my house right now...

Last night I got a chance to find that spot for Bean. Bean is now a highly opinionated three year old. He's always been far more physical than Sprout and his passion for life comes out in many ways. From giving me a black eye when he meant to give me a hug, to launching himself off his bunk bed or the staircase, or a tabletop in joy, to having the kind of epic arms-flailing-hysterical-screaming tantrums I had only read about until now.

The tantrums have been particularly hard to navigate, because once they begin his whole body is consumed with fury and fear and sadness. The wave seems to be able to offer him a good long ride of misery. He won't be touched, or comforted at all. Left to his own devices, we're talking 20, 30 - maybe even 40 minutes of hysteria before he runs out of steam. It feels awful to not know how to comfort him. Tempting at times, to give in and let go of a limit, just to make it stop. (That's how he ended up with a dummy until his birthday just gone. The first time I took it away I just wasn't resilient enough to sit with his emotions and let them be expressed.)

What I've discovered, is that when he is in a BIG feeling, he really needs to be heard. 

So, last night, he was overtired. Really properly beat. And I needed him to get out of the bath so he could go to bed. But the bath is really fun! And he has new boats to play with in there, that he just got for his birthday! Man, it sucks to get picked out of the bath when you're three and having fun. Still - the limit is there because he needs it. He can't just play in there all night. So pick him out, I did. 

Ooosh the screaming began. And the flailing. And worst of all, as he kicked and screamed and pummelled his fists he was yelling 'Stop hurting me mummy. STOP HURTING ME!!!'. I wasn't even touching him, as he lay on the floor beating seven shades out of the carpet and wall. It's awful to listen to, but the limit still remains... bath time is over. So I looked for that sweet spot. The one between yelling at him myself to be quiet, because the force of his emotions scare me. Or forcing him into bed to cry it out because he must simply 'do as he is told'. Or putting him back in the cold bath I just removed him from, because he told ME to. 

I sat down quietly on the carpet next to him and said firmly, 'You really didn't want to get out of the bath.' He paused for breath, then carried on yelling. 'You're really mad at Mummy for picking you out of the bath.' He actually looked at me for a second. 'You are REALLY cross that the fun is over and it's making you feel sad.' He stopped yelling.

'You not nice Mummy. You not listen Mummy. You made me mad Mummy. I want a fun bath'. (sobbing). 

'I know Bean. I can hear you. It's really hard.'

We sat there for a minute, just breathing in a sense of understanding. I offered him my lap with a towel in it, and asked him if he would like a cuddle and to choose something else that might be fun. Maybe a story? With a look of deep resignation, he accepted my cuddle. A thirty second reconnect. 

And just like that, joyful Bean bounced back. Careered off up the stairs, laughing and jumping about while hunting for a book. It's like a tornado for me to witness, when he gets like that. The emotions just ripping through him. It's exhausting for me! Lord only knows what it feels like for him. 

What I've learned is that the limit isn't the problem for my kids. Really, the limits can be anything - keeping their seat-belts on, eating their dinner before getting pudding, going to bed at a reasonable hour, not watching 4 hours of television or eating chocolate cake for breakfast. When they get older, I bet it'll be limits on screen time, having a curfew, getting a fixed allowance they earn through doing chores... the problem for them, with all these limits, will be expressing how they feel about them, and in doing so, feeling heard. 

The limits themselves will actually help them to feel safe, that their worlds are contained in predictable ways, and there is someone lovingly steering the way through these formative years. That's my WHY. The reason I put in the effort to stay calm, be empathetic, and allow them their biggest feelings. It's also where I need my own support system firmly in place. Somewhere I can go where I feel heard, contained, loved and looked after. 

You see, it's a mobius ring when you get into this kind of parenting. No ending, no beginning. I can only give what I have when I'm getting it myself, so for every patient, resourceful, empathetic piece of me I give my kids, I'm grateful to the people who give it back to me. The other parents who listen and share their journeys. My partner who reminds me all the time that I'm doing an awesome job (even when I think I suck at parenting). My own parents who hold me up and still, after all this time, make me feel safe. It really does take a village to raise a child. So if you don't have one yet, and you're finding this peaceful stuff hard, bring a few more people into your loop. It will help, I promise. 

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