Boundaries: Exploring lines in the sand, castles with moats and fast flowing rivers
A big topic in my life currently and one which relates in both professional and personal life. Today was the first day of the Garden, there was a plan and two children to focus on which was a great opportunity to build quality relationships immediately.
The start of the day went off plan pretty much immediately due to a play accident. However, it created the perfect opportunity to do some Hand in Hand parenting special time with one of the girls. I had only met the child a few minutes beforehand so I explained the concept of special time and invited her to lead me in whatever activities she chose for 5 timed minutes. She accepted and we played tag, me with my eyes shut, just using my ears and I allowed her to escape being tagged the majority of the time. This, to me, is an important part of playing games with children. When building relationships with adults, who hold a lot of power most of the time, it is important that children have the opportunity to feel powerful. This helps them, in my experience, feel like they can speak up at times when they may feel the balance is not on their side.
After we finished playing, she asked for one minute more and I explained that with special time it is important that we have our set time and that this will happen each week on a one and one basis. I explained that the other child would be back shortly and we needed to prepare for playing together as a group. She understood and the other child reappeared at that moment.
The rest of the morning was intense adult led play, which the children asked for, with me offering various opportunities for them to lead. At one point I began to tire and noticed a perceptible drop in energy in my body. I therefore made a clear boundary that I needed some time out and that they needed to lead their own play up until lunch. One girl continued to request more tag and I explained that I needed to rest and that I would play more later in the afternoon. We chose some books to look at and slowly the requests stopped for a short while. They then started again and I needed to work out whether I needed to hold the boundary for the sake of clarity or whether it was still true for me that I needed to hold the boundary in the face of the request for connection. I could see that she was struggling to self-initiate continuous play and I checked in with my own body to see if I could, without going against my internal feelings, go back to joining in. I decided I could and played for 20 more minutes.
The afternoon went very quickly compared to the morning and the children, on suggestion after lunch, went on a self-organised nature hunt and came back for stories 30 minutes before home time. We completed the day with a closing circle and reflections on the day which mostly the children felt shy about, but which they took turns at coming to sit with me for, whilst the adults shared.
At only a couple of points in the day was it necessary to impose a safety boundary, which occurred when the girls got tired, hungry and irritable. At which point I stepped in, moved close to them and held on to the object which was causing the heated exchange which was about to escalate. I explained I would hold on to it until the problem was resolved. I fed back to them what I was seeing in simple language and had a guess at how they were feeling about it. I asked them calmly and quietly to use words if they could and whether they had any solutions to the issue.
On reflection with the parent at the end of the day, I shared my experiences of boundaries and self-leadership and this echoed part of an experience that was happening at home too. This made me realise that this gently approach to exploring boundaries with this girl was the right call when we had a small group to work with and that it would be a continuing adventure.
Tonight I am recollecting these thoughts and many other experiences with my own children and other children and I notice that it is the same with our adult relationships too. These days I feel mostly clear with boundaries, where at other times in my life, I have had a difficult relationship to setting them and/or maintaining them. As I deepen my own journey and process, I notice that boundaries are an edge, a place for learning, which means that they shift as time moves on. I also notice that it is important for me to have a moment by moment experience with them as my own body energy system changes almost constantly and the awareness I have of this phenomenom means that I can notice more and more the importance to staying true to myself whilst also being aware of when a boundary may lead to disconnection from myself and others.
Today I could have enforced a rigid structure, set a tone for relationships forthwith and kept a sense of connection to a clarity of “this is how we do things”. Instead I chose to notice the moments, lean into my sense of what was needed, and be guided by what my body system was saying and my intuition of the situation.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. In every moment, every opportunity, we have a choice and this choice helps children understand the world. With each person they meet, they will learn something new, some of it will be positive and life affirming and sometimes it will be more challenging.
My invitation is to consider what boundaries you hold with your child? What ones do you hold with your close family and friends? Are you rigid with some and not with others? Are you consistent or do you notice that you have more fluidity with some people? Most importantly I think, what are your expectations of your child and their sense of your boundaries? Are these expectations ambitious or fair? Do you respect their boundaries?
I often think it is less about what we teach and more about what we model every day. We are all human and we don’t do it perfectly every time or even most of the time. Do we tell our children and our friends “hey, I wish I had done that differently!” when the wisdom of our body or our mind is letting us know that.