Bathtub Boundaries with an Ocean of Love
Security comes to your child by more than just a blanket. Although our kids may cling to their favorite lovey or toy, the real security comes from you, their parent. And it’s not just by hugs and kisses on boo-boos, but by boundaries.
Boundaries, you say? How can I be loving to my kid by saying “no, no, no”? I say you can be firm in where you stand, be strict in what is necessary, and end up having a “yes, yes, yes” world for your child.
Let me explain. Imagine you are stranded in the middle of the ocean with no land in site—it’s a scary thought. A vast sea is overwhelming to anyone, much less a small child where the world is huge anyway. Think about all the dangers, possibilities, opportunities, and curiosities there are to explore in this world. It’s daunting and overwhelming…about like trying to find a needle in a haystack (or a box of cereal in the cereal aisle). But a small bathtub is a world of fun. In a bathtub, your child can be in charge of her own sea—from one end to the other. She knows what’s all around her—she knows where the water comes from, she knows who is sitting by the side of the bathtub while she plays.
When you have a toddler who is learning independence, the world is even more of a daunting ocean—your child needs you for assurance. If I walk out of mommy’s sight, what will happen? If I throw the cup on the floor, does it disappear? If I hit daddy, is it funny? If I don’t want to go, will Mommy leave me?
Think about that last question.How many times do you play a trick on your child with reverse psychology?
“I don’t want to go!’
“Okay, fine, bye!”
Which then proceeds to a melt-down of:
“Don’t leave me!”
Will you really leave him? Can you reasonably leave a child in the middle of a crowded store? What lesson does it teach him? If I have a different opinion from Mom, and she doesn’t like it, she’s gone. What security does that instill? Instead, if they know what their choices are, and the consequences that come from those choices, they in essence have a “fence” of security…much like being able to see the walls of the bathtub. Mommy makes the boundary and I’m in control of the choices I make inside it.
Security is in knowing what is allowed and what isn’t. Your child can have the world…but can they handle it? That is where you come in. You help monitor that world a little at a time. You allow them to play loose in the yard, knowing they can go anywhere in the yard within the boundaries you laid out with them. They are king of their universe…and you are the castle they come home to. You see, the more you help them lay out what is allowed and what isn’t, the more you are able to say “yes!” to their world. They know not to touch the outlets or hit their sister. They also know that their playroom is their domain and the back yard is subject to all the exploration they want.
Security comes by loving your child enough to be firm in your rules, even when they are not loving back to you. Security is knowing your little girl won’t run out in the street because she knows the consequence—it’s the same consequence you’ve given her every time. Security is your little boy knowing he is in control of whether he has a grumpy day or a happy day (remember only YOU are in charge of your attitude!), and no matter whether he likes it or not, you will NOT leave without him. He can choose whether he’ll be happy about that. Security is your child knowing that you expect respect because you give THEM respect. It’s being firm in where you stand, but always stopping to truly listen to what they feel.
Give them the foundation—the rules, the consequences, and your unconditional love, no matter whether they decide to break the rules or follow them. Then give them wings to explore their world—to say yes five times more than you need to say no—to only say no when absolutely necessary (and be prepared to stand firm), and say yes to all the days in the mud, the days of dressing herself, and the moments when they truly ARE superman.
She’ll outgrow her favorite teddy bear. He’ll hang up his blanket cape. But they will find and develop their security in you—make it count!