It's hard to believe summer is almost over and school is about to start again. Summers are a necessary break from all the stress of the school year. We as parents also tend to be a little more relaxed when it comes to rules, like staying up late, sleeping in and so on. By now however, most moms … I mean most parents, are actually quite ready to have their kids go back to school. It's time to pull the family together and return to the safety of having a routine once more. Enough of the summer chaos!
The tricky part of reigning in our kids is the fact that they've gotten use to hearing a lot of "OKs" over the summer. For example, questions like "Can I go to the pool, movies or a friend's house?" are usually answered with a resounding "Yes, and have fun!" So going back to setting limits and boundaries, and enforcing them initially, can be met with a little or a lot of pushback. Parents are invariably painted in to the corner of being too strict, too mean, too old-fashioned, too controlling or just plain too out of touch with today's world. Boundaries and limits are too often seen as a hindrance to freedom of doing one's own thing.
So that magical word "no" can easily become a source of contention and hurt feelings in our family relationships. If you've ever had an opportunity to speak and listen to young adults about their experiences growing up, you might discover some very interesting insights. Normally you'd expect them to say that their parents had too many rules, were too strict and controlled everything. Well, that can be one side of the parent-child experience. Far too often I've heard the exact opposite. Many adults I've interviewed wish their parents had been more consistent with the rules and more strict in their enforcement. This is fascinating to me, especially given how much teenagers hate being told what to do. After all, they know everything! These adults felt that their parents' lack of rules, limits and boundaries was a sign that the parents didn't really care about them. What's ironic is that the more permissive parents think that they're being more loving by indulging their kids and giving in to their teenager's requests.
Saying "no" within reason is one of the most loving things we can do as parents, especially when raising kids during their turbulent teenage years. Our children need limits now more than ever. It would be unloving and unkind of us to overindulge them. They may not like our boundaries, but eventually they will come to understand we did it for their benefit. We set boundaries because we love them. The key, of course, is how we say no. Quite often in families a request is made by the child, the parent says no, and then the back and forth for control begins. If not closely monitored it can escalate to loud, angry and disrespectful words or actions. As parents it is our responsibility to set the tone of the conversation and very clearly set the consequences for disrespectful language. Our kids don't have to agree, understand or like our decisions, but it will be a lot easier if they accept our final decision with respect. When children know and accept that our boundaries are solid, they will begin to self-regulate their behaviors in order to avoid additional consequences.
The long-term goal for all of us parents is to raise independent children who've learned to manage themselves, their emotions and actions and who know that we love them.
Parenting is the most unpredictable, exhilarating, heartbreaking and amazing experience in life. Clearly defined expectations, limits and boundaries can play a significant part in raising successful children … one day at a time.