Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Boundaries: A Tool To Help Children And Adult's Succeed

Boundary: A line around something's edge.

extinction concept elephant family on edge of cliff

    Dean and I have very distinct boundaries for our children. They know where these boundaries are and while they push against them from time to time to ensure these boundaries are secure, they generally feel safe within them.

   We have been accused, blessed, held in awe and trampled for having these boundaries in place. One of the arguments we hear is: "They will never learn how to make decisions if you don't allow them to experience life outside the boundaries." Our answer to that is, "The boundaries we have in place are to keep them safe, we know they are not able to traverse the world outside the safety net we have put in place. As they grow, mature and show they are able to make the right decisions, we broaden their horizons, giving them a little more freedom. If they do well with this, we continue to allow them this extra space and with time we give them a little more freedom. Boundaries are not put in place as a punishment, they are implemented to set the individual up for success. 

   For instance, Joseph cannot make good choices if he is allowed to run and play with a group of boys. This is due to brain damage, not lack of experience. If we as his parents give him this freedom, knowing he will get into trouble and possibly accidentally hurt someone, are we not being irresponsible? Plus, there may be damages to repair, children will not want to play with him and inevitably he will feel like a failure. As it is, we allow him to play one on one with other children while remaining in our sight because he does well with that. He comes away feeling successful, he has a friend and he had a good time all of which equal success.

    Children and adults who are unable to honor boundaries due to brain damage, lack of training or from too much freedom to soon, yearn for the security of having someone say, "You may not...." It also gives them an out. See, sometimes these people know deep in their hearts that they cannot handle what their peers are about to do, but if they say no, they risk ridicule. If they can say, "My mom, dad or whoever the case may be, said I may not," perhaps their peers will cast their judgement elsewhere.

    An inability to respect boundaries is something most people with a trauma history struggle with. In their previous home their top priority was survival. Emotional and verbal abuse can be just as detrimental as physical or s@xual abuse, in any of these situations the person has a goal of getting through the day with as little damage as possible, by whatever means necessary.

    If such a person is  removed from the situation and placed in a home where boundaries are not enforced, they will naturally continue with their previous method of life, with no thought of how it might be affecting another person or inhibiting their own healing. When boundaries are implemented, the person will fight against them but deep inside, perhaps so deep they themselves are unaware of it, is a sense of relief. Relief that someone finally cares enough about them to place limits and enforce those limits with consequences.

   A consequence is different than a punishment. A punishment is given to someone with the intent that the person will no longer pursue whatever it is they have been doing. A consequence is a teaching tool. We have been taught to use natural consequences whenever possible. Let's say Junior leaves his new ball glove outside and the dog chews it up. A punishment is given because he was irresponsible and left his glove outside, when he was perfectly able to remember to put it away without any prompts. Now if the child has experienced trauma or has brain damage, you might say something like, "Oh dear, Rover chewed you ball glove, how sad, now you don't have one," and leave it at that. No longer having a ball glove is a natural consequence. Every parent or caregiver will have to decide how to proceed from there. Whether Junior earns a new ball glove by doing extra chores or perhaps receives one for a gift, will need to be determined by what he is able to understand. If your child's brain damage is extensive enough that you know he is unable to care for his belonging's, is it really his fault the ball glove got left outside or does some of the blame perhaps lay with his parents?

    This same technique applies to older teens and adults who are attempting to heal from previous wounds or have brain damage and are learning to navigate their surroundings. It would be "nice" if these people could be given the freedoms other adults enjoy, but what we are forgetting is that while they are adults physically, emotionally and socially they are still growing. Boundaries will give them the same sense of security Joseph feels when we say, "No." 

    Often times these people have low self esteem from continual failure. They try and try but are unable to respond correctly and appropriately to situations their peers handle with ease. By enforcing boundaries, we eliminate some of these pitfalls and give the individual an opportunity to succeed. every success builds self esteem, which is a great incentive to conquer more hurdles. 

teenage girls climbing over the fence

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