Sometimes I get so frustrated caring for and raising this child of mine, that I forget why we chose to adopt her and raise her in the first place. I have always coached the employees of my preschool with the statement “You must get the behaviors under control, and then you can start having fun!” And I believe that with all my heart (and my Hart, too!). If kids don’t know their boundaries, then they will feel insecure and they will test and test and test them until both you and the child are exhausted. Setting clear, fair boundaries (rules), and then consistantly enforcing them with religious zeal will paint clear lines for your child to navigate within. When the child feels those boundaries are firm, then he will feel secure, stop testing them, relax and in turn you can relax, and then the two of you can start having fun. This is true wether it be in a home or a classroom or any other setting where children are involved.
This is a proven theory. I have proven it to myself and others over and over and over again for over 30 years. It works with all types of children. If they are meek, timid children, they like knowing where those boundaries are because it helps them know what is expected of them and they feel secure in their efforts to fill those expectations. If they are the proverbial oppositional child, it is even more important to be steadfast in the teaching and enforcement of those boundaries, because I truly believe that the more oppositional and defiant a child is, that usually means the more insecure he is, deep down. When you waver in your setting of those boundaries, or are inconsistent in enforcing them, the child senses your weakness, and will push harder. Because above all the child needs to know that you are in charge, and that you are strong enough and that you care enough to take care of him.
Setting boundaries is not an environmental thing, even though the word “boundary” infers a physical boundary. Setting boundaries is a very personal thing between you and that child (or children). At every new “changing of the guards”, when the child’s care is changing hands from one teacher to another, one parent to another, or between any two adults, on some level the child feels a basic insecurity at that transition of his care. “Who is his protector? Who is in charge?” And so the child will test those boundaries with that new person to see where they are. If the two people are “on the same page”, and support the expectations each other has for the child, it is much easier for the child to transition from one care provider to the next.
But when the chips are down, when you are caring for a child, that child wants to know what your limits are. And so the test between you and that child can become very personal. The child isn’t testing to see wether or not the there is a rule. He knows the rules. He is testing to see if you are going to enforce that rule.
This is why children behave differently with different people. The child has formed a personal relationship with each person, and will learn (or already knows) how far he can push that person before they have reached that boundary, that limit.
It is this personal aspect of the relationship that can make boundary setting and enforcing a challenge. I have had social workers and therapists and many, many people “in the know”, tell me not to take it personally when my daughter defies me and pushes the boundaries that I have set. In my heart of hearts I think that is pure hogwash. The relationship I have with this child is personal, by definition. When she is being oppositional, argumentative and defiant, she is specifically attacking the boundaries that I have set. Not the boundaries of her Dad, or the boundaries of her horseback riding instructor, but my boundaries. And that is her intent, because she is trying to define her relationship with me. So, yes, I take it personally.
But, here is the rub. She is attacking the boundaries I set, and thus testing me, to define her relationship with me. But she is attacking hard and furiously because, bottom line, she is very insecure in our relationship. In this case that insecurity is not my fault. That insecurity is at her absolute base because during her first 5 formative years she lived in an environment that offered her no emotional or physical security whatsoever. For her first five years she was passed around from one relative or another, lived in different homes, hotels, even in cars on occasion. Her next meal was always a crap shoot. Her basic needs were barely met, inconsistently. I won’t even go into the things she witnessed or even those things in which she possibly participated. In spite of that she had a strong, instinctive love for her birth-mother, but obviously those feelings weren’t reciprocated because her birth-mother didn’t even bother to show up in court when they permanently terminated her parental rights. So my daughter has every reason to feel insecure, and to not trust in any relationship. Her most important first relationship, that one that was the foundation for all of her future relationships, was with her birth mom. And was traumatically severed and destroyed when she was just five years old.
So here I am, an experienced Mom, teacher and childcare provider, trying to convince her that I am worthy of her trust and that I am not going to let her down. I know this is a fact, but for her this is a hard sell, because she has justifiable issues with trust. I have faith in my abilities as a Mom, teacher and childcare provider. But her endless attack sometimes make my faith in those abilities waver. I start second guessing myself.
This is the part that I make personal that I shouldn’t. “Am I a good Mom? Have I set the right boundaries? Am I vigilant enough? Am I too hard on her? Am I too easy on her?” I ask myself these questions over and over in those wee hours of the morning. And when she is screaming at me and throwing a wild temper tantrum for me. When she is acting as though my expectations are unreasonable. Remember that part I wrote above “When you waver in your setting of those boundaries, or are inconsistent in enforcing them, the child senses your weakness, and will push harder.“? Well, when my little girl senses me second guessing myself, and she sees me waver, her insecurities explode in her brain, and she will fight like a wild animal to see if I am really strong enough to keep my word. Strong enough to love her, parent her, keep her safe, and to keep her! Forever.
So the question I need to be asking myself, in those moments when I am wavering, is how, in addition to using the proven and reliable method of setting firm, realistic, and consistent boundaries for my little girl, what more can I do to make her feel more secure in our relationship? In the permanence of our relationship? I have to help her battle the demons that I did not give her. I know that setting those boundaries will help her feel secure, but obviously, that isn’t going to be enough. So I need to brainstorm ways to make her feel better about us.
When I am second guessing the main skills that make up me, I am not happy. I am a parent, a teacher, a childcare provider. Those titles define who I am. When I am second guessing my skills in those subjects, I am feeling my very own brand of insecure. And my daughter, who is so very intuitive in matters of insecurity, senses that.
So here is my conclusion. I need to have faith that I am a good parent, a good teacher and a good childcare provider. I am far from perfect, but I am good at what I do. God gave me these skills, these strengths, and I need to embrace them as wondrous gifts. In other words, stop second guessing myself. When my daughter attacks the boundaries that I set for her, I need to remind myself that I know those boundaries are good, just, and fair because I have over 30 years of experience of successfully setting good boundaries for children. When I am confident in my skills, then I can take my daughter’s attack less personally. They aren’t attacks on my abilities as a mother, but rather an attack on the disabilities of her birth-mother.
The reason that I titled this blog “Focus on the Freckles”, is because she has really cute freckles. ♥ I am a very visual person, and so I have decided to visually imagine that every freckle represents all that is good about my little girl. And she has a lot of freckles! And she has a lot of good traits. She is very loving, concerned about what other people are feeling, she has a fantastic sense of humor, she has a beautiful smile, beautiful eyes, an abundant amount of enthusiasm for life and learning new things. Her vocabulary is blossoming and as she becomes more and more secure in her place in our family, and in our heart, she is feeling safe enough to reveal how incredibly bright she really is. She is amazing with horses, and she has recently turned over a new attitude leaf towards homeschool. And those are just a few of her freckles! There are too many to name. The point is, I need to remind myself that her behaviors, while usually targeted at me personally, they are not a reflection of my skills as a mother, and they are not a reflection of who she really is. She is her freckles! The behaviors are… well… just behaviors. Her behaviors are the brown hairy crust that surrounds the coconut she really is. Lol
So now I ask you, reader, do you think you set clear boundaries for your children? Are you consistent with following through with fair consequences? Do you even think that is important in your family? Or your classroom?
I also ask you, do you feel insecure in your parenting/teaching skills when your kids cross those lines? Or am I the only one?
And how do you find your kid’s freckles when you are discouraged and frustrated with them?
If you don’t mind, please comment on my blog (preferable to commenting on Facebook, but that’s okay too if you don’t want to sign up for my blog.) And please share! I would really like to know how all of you feel about this subject!