A boundary is something that indicates where your responsibility begins and where it ends. For instance, it is my responsibility to say no to something I don’t want to do but I’m not responsible for your feelings that arise as a result. ‘No’, is often one of the first words children learn as they begin to talk. It is a crucial stage to learn because if we can’t say no than our yes means nothing.
The mistake that some parents make is forcing their children to take responsibility for something that is not meant to be theirs. They never get to exercise their ability to say no. This is commonly seen in firstborn children who often hold more responsibility than they should, much more than their siblings, which is often to their own detriment. Now some responsibility like walking with their siblings on the way home from school is appropriate whereas children who cook for and clean after their younger siblings are being taught to be miniature adults which blurs the lines between what is their responsibility and what is their parents. Children who fail to learn the boundaries between what’s mine and what’s yours may develop co-dependency, which will impair their ability to cultivate healthy relationships.
The aim of instilling boundaries in our children is to facilitate a process of maturity and growth so they can make wise choices in their relationships. It helps them navigate the weird and wonderful dynamic of relationships by recognising that they cannot and should not control other people. Children who are developing strong boundaries refuse to try and fix other people and will not blame their emotional reactions on someone else’s behaviour. They will own their reactions and refuse to make other people responsible for what only they can control. A mature person who has gone through tragedy and trauma will in time say in their heart something like “The trauma wasn’t my fault, but healing is my responsibility”. They will own their journey of recovery and healing and will refuse to wait for someone else to rescue them from their own situation. Reaching out for support and encouragement is wise but waiting for someone to take over and fix everything is unrealistic.
As we continue to offer our children an environment of safety and security, remember to support and encourage them to take responsibility for only what they can control and teaching them to resist pursuing that which is out of their control. Remember, taking responsibility for something outside of your control is irresponsible.
Anthony Ryan – School Counsellor
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2004).Boundaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Silk, D. (2015).Keep Your Love On. New York: Loving On Purpose.