Raising Children Without Boundaries is Never a Good Idea

Raising Children Without Boundaries is Never a Good Idea

Last update: 23 October, 2021

There’s an old Spanish proverb that says “raise ravens, and they’ll gouge your eyes out”. It means that sometimes well-intentioned deeds are repaid with ingratitude. This same saying could well be applied to the upbringing of children and the boundaries that parents impose, or rather, fail to impose.

There are many questions and doubts concerning the educating of children. In addition, there are a lot of different emotions involved, particularly when setting boundaries. In fact, it’s common for parents to have doubts and feel like “bad parents” when making decisions that involve establishing parenting norms and guidelines.

Many doubts arise in the face of the hard work of educating a child. You ask yourself, am I doing it right? Is this the most appropriate option? Why, even though I know this is the right thing to do, do I feel like it isn’t? 

Indeed, there are millions of questions that arise when it comes to educating our children, Furthermore, there are probably just as many articles, books, and information on the subject. You only have to go to a bookstore or put the word education into a search engine, to be faced with thousands of hints and tips. However, these don’t always turn out to be either coherent or correct.

Setting boundaries

Parents watering their children with love

Many people associate the word boundary with something negative. They believe that setting certain boundaries implies not taking the child’s opinion into account. Nevertheless, this isn’t the case. As a matter of fact, setting boundaries signifies structure, regulation, and teaching. It doesn’t involve yelling, getting angry, or ignoring your child. Nor does it imply disrespect.

Educating means saying “no” to things that your child can’t or shouldn’t do. It means teaching them that sometimes they have to wait to get what they want. It also implies imposing certain consequences for behaviors that need to be corrected and being consistent with the decisions you take.

This doesn’t mean that you have to constantly shout, get angry, or threaten your children. Indeed, you can convey the messages calmly, clearly, and without repeating yourself too much. Remember, it’s never advisable to make threats that you won’t carry out.

“Can you buy me the Peppa Pig cake?”

Imagine that you’re in a supermarket and your daughter wants you to buy her the Peppa Pig cake. However, it’s neither the time nor the occasion to buy the cake so you say no. Faced with your refusal, your daughter insists and starts crying and kicking.

Boy screaming enraged and boundless

At this moment you begin to feel ashamed because people around you are looking at you. Then, you start to get angrier and angrier. In order to put a stop to the tantrum, you buy your daughter the cake. Your daughter, happy with her cake, shuts up, you stop feeling ashamed, and you can continue with your shopping.

When you give in, you feel relieved because your daughter’s stopped crying. In addition, you no longer feel ashamed and her anger doesn’t continue. However, she’s learned that by using tantrums she can get what she wants.

Furthermore, if this becomes a habitual way of functioning, the tantrums could increase and become a habitual way of your daughter achieving what she wants.

Patterson’s negative reinforcement trap

Patterson’s theory of coercion and the negative reinforcement trap explains the fact that it’s easier for parents in the short term to give in to inappropriate requests from their children. However, in the long run, the cost will be much higher. That’s because inappropriate behaviors will reproduce at an exponential rate.

When parents give in to inappropriate behavior, such as a tantrum, hitting, or threats, both parties “feel good.” On the one hand, parents get the child to stop bothering them. On the other, the child gets what they want.

Patterson’s Negative Reinforcement Trap explains how parents giving in to a tantrum get relief. Indeed, the tantrum stops and the child succeeds. Nevertheless, this increases the likelihood that tantrums will become more frequent over time.

In the short term, it seems that both parties win. However, in the long term, the consequences are nowhere near as pleasant. As a matter of fact, the child will learn to manipulate the adults through these behaviors and will start to use them more regularly. On the other hand, parents will end up not being able to control their children’s behavior unless they give them what they ask for.

The consequences of the lack of boundaries

Mother scolding her daughter for tantrums

People who haven’t been set boundaries usually have a low tolerance for frustration, have trouble controlling their emotions, and don’t respond well to rules and obligations. Furthermore, they tend to manipulate and make other people feel bad in order to achieve their purpose.

Impertinence, demand for privileges, lack of perseverance and effort, little patience, little collaboration, behavior problems, assaults, or even destruction of objects are some of the problems that lack of limits can lead to.

Behavioral disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, are characterized by constant defiance and the breaking of rules. In these disorders, it’s common to find children who’ve been given no boundaries. As a matter of fact, it’s often the case that the child is the one doing the ordering, making commands, and taking decisions.

If you don’t educate, who will?

Recently, the psychologist Teresa Rosillo said in an interview: “we’ve forgotten to tell the children that their parents are in charge.” Indeed it’s true that there are many homes where the minor is the one who has the last word and it’s the adults who adjust their plans and routines in accordance with the demands and whims of the child.

One of the fundamental tasks of parents is to educate their children so they can regulate themselves. However, in order for children to be able to regulate themselves, they first need to be regulated.

It’s parents, not other entities or people, who have the duty and obligation to educate their children. This involves listening, teaching them what’s right and wrong, and saying “not now”, “I told you already” or “you’ll have to wait” on many occasions. It means teaching them to overcome their feelings of frustration. It’s no easy task. However, if parents don’t do it, who will?

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