Simply put, kids are tough. Whether they are yours, your partners, your students, or a friends child, they don’t make it easy. If you’re in any position with them where you need to have some structure, boundaries, or consequences there will definitely be resistance. Setting a boundary isn’t even the difficult part, being consistent and firm without anger or frustration THAT is the difficult part.
I have 4 step kids and work at a multi-age school for mild to moderately disabled children. The kids at the school range from autism spectrum disorder to dyslexia and ADD. I am literally surrounded.
Every day I have an opportunity to explore what works and what doesn’t. When I can set a boundary and when I need to let it go. No two days are the same and every day I learn something brilliant.
You cannot establish healthy boundaries without first building trust, or atleast actively doing both. Building trust can be tricky with kids that are reluncatant to hand it out. It can be very complicated and very rewarding. I think there are some essential building blocks for trust. Authenticity, perseverance, flexibility, courage and humor.
The foundation of the blocks must be authenticity. Sharing your experiences or atleast snippets of how you have failed will help them understand we are all human, doing the best we can and that you don’t expect them to be perfect. The better the example you set of being genuinely you, without allowing fear or anger to dictate your behavior, the more free they will feel to be themselves.
Perseverance and flexibility. The definition of perseverance is: steady persistance in a course of action, especially in spite of difficulties and obstacles. We have to be able to stick by their side, through the good and bad. We have to show them if they have a meltdown we’re here. If they have a proud moment, we’re there with our praise. If they break down into tears over something, we are there. The flexibility will help you react based on context and importance. This is where you can test setting some small boundaries. Every situation will be different, you have to be nimble and flexible enough to go with the flow of the moment. If you’re married to handling the situation a precise way, or getting a specific outcome, not only will you successfully aggravate yourself but you will fail at building trust.
Courage allows you stand strong in an emotional storm while perseverance is the act of moving forward through the mud and the muck. When the ball is not your court and you have to give a child some space or hear hurtful words without reacting angrily-THAT is courage. Courage will keep your heart in tact and perseverance will keep you moving forward. Humor is a coping skill and one of the final foundational blocks. The ability to redirect, or as my boss says in a playful, Monty Python tone, “and now for something completely different!” It’s ok to be firm with a boundary AND make a child laugh!! This is the toughest and the most important at the same time! If you can be firm and have the next step be childlike whimsy… You are now building trust.
Sending out lots of love to the universe!