A river needs banks and sometimes even levee banks to keep it on track and to avoid it causing floods or devastation. In the same way children need boundaries to keep them on track.
When your children demonstrate inappropriate behaviours that are not fenced in by boundaries, they can make a mess (either physically or emotionally) which may not be easy for the parent to clean up.
Until children are old enough or mature enough to keep themselves within the appropriate boundaries, parents have to do it for them. Maybe your children need fences to keep them where the grass is green and life is good and to stop them wandering.
One way of looking at this is by using the concept of the Funnel. The purpose of a funnel is to move or guide something to a focal point. So to get your children going in the direction they need to be going, they need to be surrounded by boundaries.
The narrow stem of the funnel represents the early stages of parenting, when the child is young. The wider part represents the expanding growth, maturity and gradual freedoms children are able to handle as they develop.
Parenting ‘outside the funnel’ is seen when parents rush their children through childhood by giving them freedoms and expectations that are neither age appropriate nor in harmony with their children’s moral and intellectual capabilities. By giving 3 yr olds the freedoms appropriate for 6 yr olds only forces children to carry oversized burdens they are not emotionally equipped to carry. Such freedoms do not facilitate healthy learning patterns but rather encourage excessive freedoms and create over-sized problems for undersized children.
On the other hand, trying to keep children in the narrow part of the funnel as they mature, rather than allowing their freedoms to increase in line with their development, can also be a problem.
Do you expect too much from your children? Examples of parenting outside the funnel may be:
- allowing a 3 yr olds to use a sharp knife to cut up their own apple.
- allowing younger children the same freedoms as their older siblings in the name of fairness.
- taking children to age-inappropriate movies (or playing inappropriate computer games with them) because parents are impatient to share those experiences with their children.
- giving in to ‘peer pressure’ to allow children freedoms they may not be ready for just because other families allow it.
Sometimes parents discipline their children thinking they are dealing with rebellion when, in fact, they are dealing with a child who has been allowed to function outside the funnel morally appropriate for his or her age. Parents may also be too busy or disengaged to make the effort to get to know their children well enough to assess their moral and physical maturity.
Can you think of one thing that your children do that they may not be morally ready for?