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It’s all about Boundaries

by Sarah on January 24th, 2013

During the December holidays my darling little two-and-a-half-year old upped her feisty antics rather drastically. She shoved and pushed her cousins whenever they did something she didn’t like, and she started to throw tantrums more and more regularly. I understand that having constant guests in her space, other children playing with her things, and being out of her normal routine was quite a lot to deal with, but it’s not behaviour that I wanted to encourage. I can now also see that by me not being very clear on what her boundaries were, would’ve also added to her frustration.

After her first day back at school, one of the teachers mentioned her throwing a tantrum. I told them how she’d had lots of them during the holidays (one being a full-blown, back-arching, snotty-faced screaming fit in the queue in Woolworths – that aisle of sweets is one of my least favourite things in the world!). Immediately, Lily’s new teacher overheard me say this, and asked why I never called her for help.  I had no idea that I could!

Ever since then, she’s been guiding me on how to set boundaries with Lily and we’re having the most amazing results. She’s an incredibly gentle, caring teacher, but all her children know where they stand with her. She does not tolerate tantrums, whining or having to ask them to do things twice. They just listen. How has she got it so right? Because she’s 100% consistent, and sets very clear boundaries.

When we were leaving that day I said to Lily, “Please will you take your lunch box”. She pulled me back right away, and said, “No. You don’t ask a toddler to do something, you tell them to do it. Gently, but clearly. Like this: Lily, take your lunch box”. Immediately Lily took the box and started to walk to the car. Antoinette explained how this age is all about “training” them, repetitiveness and being clear. No choices, no questions.  ”Imagine,” she said, “you’re in your yoga class and your teacher says, “Will you please put up your right hand, or you can put up your left”. You’ll be left wondering which is best, and wondering if this teacher really knows what she’s talking about. You’ll feel insecure. If she tells you clearly to but up both hands, and stretch up into them, immediately you know what you need to do. You feel safe in her knowledge and experience.

We are our children’s teachers. She explained that from about two until five years old, they can’t deal with too much choice. They rather need clear consistent boundaries and guidelines. “Pack away your toys”, “Climb into the bath”, “Get dressed for school”. I’ve even started just choosing the book we’ll read every nap time and bed time, and she hasn’t said a word. It used to be a ten minute debacle with her trying to decide, me getting frustrated, and her getting confused.

The other bit of advice Antoinette gave me  is that as soon as I notice a tantrum beginning, or whining beginning, I must just redirect her. Take her hand and lead her away, chatting about something else entirely. Point to the pretty pink flower, ask her to spot the red cars, or count how many clouds you can see. It’s amazing how the little tantrums just dissolve. Every now and then, when she’s absolutely exhausted, she’ll still get really upset, and then I just allow her to cry, giving her no reaction whatsoever. I’m teaching her that tantrums aren’t the way to deal with her negative emotions. 

I used to be worried that if I didn’t react to her tantrums she’d think I didn’t care. When she started to whine, because she didn’t get her way, I’d need to explain why I’d made that decision. Now I’m learning that she is only a very little person who doesn’t need to understand all the reasoning behind my decisions. I’m her Mom. I know what is best for her, I know what qualities I’d like to instill in her, and the only way that I’m going to be able to do that is to clearly and calmly set boundaries. 

From → Gentle Parenting

  • Kerryn

    This has given me so much to think about! In my usual way I went and did some googling on setting boundaries after reading your post and found this article: It says a lot of the same things. I tried out a few yesterday with Georgie and was amazed at the difference!  Thanks for sharing :)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your feedback and your link, Kerryn. Will go take a read now. I can definitely see how setting boundaries makes toddlers feel so much safer. I’m learning each day is how important it is to be consistent about it, even when we’re having tired days or busy days, etc. Lots of love xxx