If you have begun parenting with boundaries in place—you as the parent and the child as the child—congratulations! Your parenting joys will outnumber your parenting woes—and usually by a great number.
When, however, should boundaries be expanded? When is a child ready to become more autonomous in a given area? When can we release some of the “micro-managing” that raising little ones involves?
There is an extremely obvious benchmark for this readiness in your child’s behavior : If a child is not happy when he does not get his own way, he should not get his own way. In a practical sense, this means that if our two year old screams because he has the blue sipper cup and he wants the red one, he is not mature enough to make that decision. He is unhappy when he doesn't get his way, so he should not get his way. And maybe this child should have the blue sipper cup for the rest of his life!
It means that if our four year old cannot share a toy with his brother, he is probably not old enough or mature enough to have that toy (at the very least for that day, but quite possibly for longer than that).
It means that if our ten year old is not doing her assignments on time, she should not be the one who decides when she will do her homework, where she will do her homework, and what she is permitted to do until the homework is done.
It means that if our sixteen year old cannot seem to get home on time after debate club, he is probably not mature enough to drive to debate club (and perhaps not mature enough to be driving at all right now).
This “discontentment benchmark” is a glaring one and one that is extremely measurable and obvious—when we want it to be. How many of us overlook the telltale signs that our children are calling the shots in certain areas way before they are ready? How many of us justify a behavior? How many of us excuse away tantrums? How many of us look the other way instead of confronting our children’s negative actions?
Tomorrow: Part II of “Benchmarks for Bringing in the Boundaries”—signs that you cannot miss.