Setting respectful boundaries

I want to set something straight. This blog is all about “letting kids lead,” yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. Children need respectful boundaries in order to freely play and explore.

Respect does not equal letting kids do whatever they want. On the contrary, I believe that children need routine and predictability in their lives. They need boundaries and safety nets. They need a loving adult to provide their needs, while also keeping them safe from danger. They may (and probably will) protest when you enforce a boundary, but deep down, they need that feeling of security that comes from knowing someone is looking out for their best interests. The world is a big and scary place to a toddler who feels unprotected, but a wondrous place of exploration to one who has a hand to hold him back when necessary.

A lot of people have a misconception that “respectful parenting” means “passive parenting.” Just sit back, let the kids raise themselves. Yeah, right. As I wrote in an earlier post, “respect means listening and responding with honesty, having appropriate expectations, and without exploiting emotions.” That “responding” bit refers partially to setting respectful boundaries. When it’s 8pm and Pippin says, “I want to play tag,” I listen and respond with my boundary: “It’s time for bed. I understand you want to play tag. Tag is pretty fun, isn’t it? We’ll play it tomorrow.”

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RESPECT: what it means to me

Some of the top parenting related Google searches start with “how to get your kids to ________.” Fill in the blank: how to get your kids to eat, how to get your kids to sleep, how to get your kids to stop hitting each other, you name it. And really high up there on the list is “how to get your kids to respect you.”

Respect. We can’t deny its importance. But are we going about it the wrong way? The first thing that pops out to me about this search phrase is that it’s all backwards. Should we need to “get” our kids to respect us? Yes, it’s commonly said that children should respect their parents and elders, but there’s a huge difference between respect given out of obligation, and respect given willingly and of one’s own initiative.

So how do we earn that respect? How do we create a relationship with our children that allows respect to bloom on its own, without demands? I am reminded of that famous Aretha Franklin song. (Got it stuck in your head, didn’t I?) After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that, to me, respect means listening and responding with honesty, having appropriate expectations, and without exploiting emotions. Let’s break that down…

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