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Gates and setting boundaries for children...

Yesterday I mentioned that our front gate was broken...

Today it was fixed...

In many ways the new gate isn't as nice as the old one; it doesn't quite match the fence, not only because it's new and fence obviously isn't, but also because it has blunt pickets instead of arched pickets. It is very practical and not at all whimsical like the old fence. The latch is shiny and new, though I was happy to see the handyman used the old hinges, I liked those hinges, they had history. I like history.

The gate doesn't need to be pretty, it's most important function is create a safe boundary for our yard. Since we've moved to this house, our toddler, Ari, has escaped on no less than three occasions. The first time he escaped, he managed to toddle the length of our block (we live at one end) all the way to the major road at the other end of our street. Luckily, observant neighbours noticed him and collected him before he attempted to cross the busy four lane road!

On another occasion, he only made it out the broken front gate and down the neighbour's driveway before his big brothers spotted him (they were just coming home from school) and brought him home.

On the third occasion, he headed in the opposite direction to the previous two times, and was spotted crossing the road which runs along the side of our property...

A firm secure boundary keeps a child safe when parents are distracted by other children or everything else they need to do as well as keeping a direct eye on each of their children.

Children don't like boundaries - that's completely natural! Children are curious and want to learn all about the world around them.

Often they feel they are capable of doing this alone and to some degree parents do need to give their children freedom to explore and to experiment in their interactions with the world. If we constantly hover over our children expecting them to be mamed or killed at any moment, we can instil undue anxiety in our children and teach that the world is a frightening place they cannot cope with without our constant input.

However, children also lack the ability to predict many of the variables of effects that come from their every choice. Little by little we provide them with opportunities to observe and learn the links between cause and effect, we share our own experiences with them through stories and we talk them through situations - sometimes with role-play - so they are equipped with a variety of safe options in new circumstances.

Children need to test boundaries. They need to find out how sturdy a boundary is; can they get through it, over it, under it? Is it going to be there tomorrow, next month, next year? Does the same boundary apply in every situation, or just this one? All this testing and verifying and checking can be very frustrating for a parent, but it serves a real purpose for the child (other than to drive you insane!), it tells them how safe they are.

When setting up boundaries, keep the following in mind...

  • Is the boundary too small? Are you restricting your child from learning about their world and gaining experience which will inform future, bigger, more important decision. Are you telling your child the world simply isn't a safe place and instilling fear in your child?
  • Is the boundary too big? Does the child even realise there is a boundary, or are they free to roam so far that they feel like they could go on forever without you caring about their safety? Boundaries let the child know you care and are looking out for them, if they can't see the boundary when they are with you, how can you see them if they reach it?
  • Is the boundary firm? Will it hold up in a storm (especially is the storm is child-created!)? Can the child touch it without going through it, will it hold the child's weight if they push against it?
  • Is the boundary compassionate? Don't make your boundary from barbwire because when your child pushes against it, they will hurt themselves and then they will not trust you or feel safe with you. You boundary needs to be firm but not harsh and not damaging to the child. Keep a compassionate boundary.
  • Does your child know about your boundary. Be kind to the child and give them foreknowledge of the boundary, don't let it spring up and surprise them as they run up to it. Set you boundary while your child is calm and can listen and take in that the boundary exists. If you wait until the child is running into the boundary, they might keep running into it blindly out of their own sense of frustration and hurt themselves on it.
I'm so happy our gate has been fixed today because this week is promising to be beautiful in Melbourne and Ari and I are going to go out and play in the front yard, and I'm going to watch to make sure he  can't open the gate himself (there will be lock on it, but I have to check that he can't climb the fence either). He'll be so happy, he's missed the front yard while the front gate has been out of commission!


Jayne said…
New gate is shiny and new. I like it! Too tired for a more intelligent comment, but glad The Adventurous One will now be safely contained!
We have a massive backyard - essentially the whole farm - 500acres... at the moment out 'yard' is half fenced. Last week Addison was outside playing on the swings and sometime later (i dont know how long), hubby calls me to ask where addison is, I said at the swings or inside, I did hear the door. Nope she wasnt she had ventured up to the dairy on her own - 200 metres away but well out of my sight. It was kinda funny because she was 'safe' but so scary, if she had of gone the other way she'd be out on the road or in the channel.
Your boundary setting tips can be applied to behaviour as well. Setting behavioural boundaries. Not too small, not too big, firm, compassionate, and known.
Thanks for these tips
Sif said…
LOL, well, our front gate isn't that secure, as it turns out - of course, a simple latch isn't going to contain Houdini (I really should make that his official nickname, but Law of Attraction and all that jazz, LOL)... Might have to invest in something more sturdy.

Courtney, yup, this is one of my favourite parenting metaphors, heard it from a very wise lady back when my older boys were just littlies - don't know if it did much good back then, but these days I feel a bit more like I have a handle on the "just right" fit for boundaries... My boys would LOVE to live on a farm - I actually did let Ari out into the back yard today, and he was fine, much better than I thought he would be - and happy as a pig in muck!

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