My child’s world.
He was a busy toddler, and the more he could get into, the happier he was. In fact, he was happiest when he was making a mess. The struggle was real, and it was daily. I wanted him to be free to explore and create and I didn’t want to stifle his creativity. I also wanted him (and our house) to be safe. Finally one day, his father went up to the attic and brought down the old green playpen that was on the verge of becoming a relic. He placed it in the dining room, right outside the kitchen door. Had there been room in the kitchen, the playpen would have been placed there. As it was, the toddler could see and observe almost everything in the kitchen, so he was content and happy in the playpen with his toys and his mama nearby.
I was that mother – and the day the playpen was set up was one of the days my husband saved my sanity as a mom. Fixing a meal or folding laundry was nearly impossible with this toddler in tow. He’d empty drawers of clean laundry, throwing it down the stairs faster than I could fill drawers with clean clothes. He could put toy animals and blocks into a hot oven without my observing – and soon I’d smell plastic smoldering in the oven along with supper.
No matter what I tried, he was two steps ahead of me, and dinner was often a disaster because I spent as much time chasing him and cleaning up than I did fixing dinner. The problem with this child was that his parameters were too wide. No matter how wide the parameters, he sped to the very edge. Every single time. Closing the parameters enhanced his safety – and my sanity.
Safety means Boundaries
On this side of parenting, I understand more how important parameters are for children. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle had I understood that earlier. As it was, my husband wisely saw the need and helped me see the importance of setting boundaries even when I felt it seemed too strict and too stifling.
I discovered that children who have too great parameters are more insecure and cause more problems in their world. A child needs boundaries in addition to freedom. Like a kite flying high, it flies highest and best when the line is taut and not left loose and free. Allowing slack in the line causes the kite to float backwards or sideways. The kite is given direction and safety as it soars. That’s what good parenting does.
A child’s world – limited choices
Too many choices in one decision add stress to a child’s life. Choosing between two items of clothing is healthier emotionally than choosing from an entire closet. The more choices a child has, the less secure he will be – and the longer it will take for him to choose. This is why a child needs the adults in his life to make some decisions for him – or certainly narrow down the choices. A child with too many choices or choices he ought not be asked to make will be insecure. Not knowing if a parent is going to follow through this time on a consequence also brings insecurity. This is why the parameters we set must be solid; they cannot change on the whim of a child. Too many choices and the possibility of a parent waffling in consequences creates a world too large for our kids.
That’s how we need to raise our kids. A child is happiest when he is secure. A child is secure when he has boundaries, knows where those boundaries are, and knows that consequences will be enforced when (not if) he goes beyond those boundaries. He might kick and scream and punch at that wall, but he needs to know that wall will not budge, because that’s how he feels secure.
Too many options, too many choices make a child feel insecure. Set him loose in a candy store and tell him he can choose two kinds of candy. He won’t be happy or secure; instead, he will beg for more. Just so, a child with too many toys won’t enjoy playing with those toys nearly as much as a child with a few items with which to play. The child with less toys plays longer than a child who has so many toys he’s constantly bouncing from one to another. When our kids have too many toys, we’ve created a world for them that is too large.
Security comes from boundaries
You want a secure child? Give him boundaries. You want a child who trusts you and respects you? Enforce consequences instead of making empty threats. Your child’s world will be safer and more secure. The tension in your home will decrease (in time IF he sees you will follow through) and your blood pressure will return to normal.
When a child’s world is too large, he is restless and insecure. He needs and expects boundaries. A child is unsafe emotionally when he has no boundaries. Every child deserves to be safe and secure. Make his world smaller, and you will accomplish what is important.