“Problem kids” don’t evolve in a vacuum. Every problem child generally has a problem context, and kids with healthy limits ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼don’t grow out of thin air. Although by nature we resist limits from birth, we have a lot of help either developing boundaries or not developing them.
As both Christians and psychologists, we live in two different environments.
The religious world sometimes blames problems on the child, saying that it’s all in Suzie’s sinful nature. The counseling world sometimes blames the parents, placing all out-of-control behaviors on “what happened to Suzie as a child.” In each case, there’s a clear good guy and there’s a clear bad guy.
Neither of these views is completely accurate. Actually, the news is worse than that!
Who we are today is essentially the result of two forces: our environment and our responses to it.
Our parenting, significant relationships, and circumstances powerfully shape our character and attitudes. But how we react to our significant relationships and circumstances—whether defensively or responsibly—also influences what kind of person we become.
You may have a child with boundary difficulties, or you may simply want to help your child become a responsible, honest person. Either way, this is not intended to make you feel guilty. Rather, we want to set out the first and most important ingredient of helping children learn boundaries: a parent with boundaries.
Your Child Is Reacting to Your Parenting
You need to interpret a child’s behavior as a response to your own as well as in terms of his motives, needs, personality, and circumstances. This requires a shift in focus, as we normally look at a person’s actions in terms of his motives, needs, personality, and circumstances, not our own.
As a rule, children don’t know what they are doing. They have little idea how to handle life so that it works right. That’s why God gave them parents—to love them, give them structure, and guide them into maturity. So, just as a puppy needs obedience training, kids need help from the outside.
Basically, children will mature to the level the parent structures them, and no higher. The parent’s limitations in being able to be responsible and teach responsibility influence how well children learn responsibility. Children don’t have it in them to grow themselves up. They respond and adapt to how they are parented.
The first and most fundamental mental picture children have of the way the universe operates is at home.
The home is where they form their concepts of reality, love, responsibility, choices, and freedom. So if you relate to your children in a way that mirrors God’s laws, they will make a successful transition to the outside world. But if you protect your children from the pain of irresponsibility, you set them up for many struggles in adulthood.
One of the most helpful questions parents can ask themselves when faced with a child’s problem is not, “Why won’t he stop hitting his brother?” but “What was my part in creating this problem?”
This may be painful, as it will require your looking at the plank in your eye rather than the speck of sawdust in your child’s (see Matthew 7:1-5). But the benefit of this approach is that it takes you out of the futility of trying to control your child and into the possibility that you can control your stance with your child.
Being a parent with boundaries who is developing a child with boundaries requires accepting the reality that this blog post (or even our book on the same topic) is not enough. Get to work on yourself, too. Find where your own boundaries are weak. Get information and help. If you haven’t already read our book Boundaries, we suggest you pick up a copy of the book and workbook. A video curriculum is also available for groups. Repair and develop boundaries with God and with the other growing people in your life.
No amount of lecturing and nagging can accomplish what an experience will.
It took an experience with parental boundaries to develop child boundaries. You are like an oak tree that the child runs her head into over and over again, until she realizes that the tree is stronger than she is, and she walks around it next time.
Parents with boundaries raise kids with boundaries. In what areas of your parenting do you need to develop stronger boundaries?