At my Fairford Leys based therapy clinic, I see not only children and young people but a lot of parents too. One thing that many parents come and see me about is the high levels of anxiety their child or young person is experiencing, whether this is at meal times, getting ready for going to school or going to social events.
However, in some cases, it is not the fact that the child or young person has anxiety because of these situations, but it is because the parent has not set any boundaries or disciplined their child. By discipline, I do not mean harming your child in any way, but setting a framework for them to know when to stop pushing and when no means no.
Children need boundaries to feel a sense of security and safety. Some children will continue to push so that they can establish where the boundaries are. If they continue to push and push but notice that their parent doesn’t do anything or change the way they speak to them, then that shows the child that there will be no consequences to their actions and that they can continue to do whatever they want.
In a recent study, it showed that children who have been disciplined, or who are aware of the boundaries and the consequences that will arise if they overstep the boundary, feel more loved than those whose parents just let them do as they please without any consequences. In my Fairford Leys therapy clinic, I often tell parents to be persistent in the consequences that they are enforcing. This, in turn, shows the child that they can only get away with so much before the consequences of their actions come into play.
Without this framework in place, children will start to lose that sense of safety and security and, in turn, that can affect their relationship with their parent as time goes on. Parents need to be able to ‘out persist’ them and show them that they are the adult and what they say goes. For example, think back to when your child was learning to walk. You didn’t give up on them, but you continued to encourage them and you gave them the confidence to get up on their feet and walk towards you. You persisted with them until they were able to walk toward you and then you rewarded them for being able to walk those 5 or 6 steps towards you.
I always tell parents who come to see me that the best way to enforce these boundaries is to explain it to the child before the event. You, as the parent, must be as direct as possible. The child must be able to understand that if they behave in a certain way there will be consequences. Boundaries come into play here, as the child is aware of how far they can get before they are overstepping that boundary.
It takes, on average 21 days for a habit to embed in our brain. This means that you must persist with boundary setting and consequences for 21 days. You must stick to this for the full 21 days or it will take you longer. If you give in on day 19 then you must go right back to day 1 for a habit to be created. This will ensure that the boundaries are stuck in the child’s brain and eventually will become part of the routine. Do not worry if it takes you longer than 21 days but does ensure you are persistent with it and do not give up.