This week has been a hard week. Last Saturday, my sweet dog Gracie stopped eating. After tests we found out she had stage IV cancer and as she grew weaker, we decided to put her down just this past Saturday. It’s almost surreal how quickly life can change in a week. Gracie has been my faithful friend for over 12 years and I will miss her dearly. I haven’t done a video or a blog without her right by my side. It feels strange to write this and not have her peeking over checking on me.
I was thankful that my colleague, Kim Fredrickson, offered to do a guest blog from her newest book Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children. For those of you who have been with me for a while, you might remember a past blog Kim did for me on her first book called, Give Yourself A Break: Turning your inner critic into a compassionate friend.
Kim helps us practice the (E) step of CORE, being empathic and compassionate without enabling destructive behaviors to continue, whether those behaviors are with our loved ones or with our own selves.
Setting Boundaries and Applying Consequences with Compassion
It’s not easy to find the sweet spot of setting boundaries and applying consequences without accidentally shaming our kids. Setting limits with compassion is so important for our children’s self-esteem, ability to set their own boundaries and relationship with themselves.
Simply put, children come out as a “blob.” They are wonderful creations made by God, but they know nothing about boundaries or right from wrong.
As far as they know everything is all good. They want what they want, and they want it now. There is no one else to consider but them. Boundaries are a rude awakening for them. This perspective is normal when they are little. Remembering these truths will help us have compassion for our kids.
As parents, we set external boundaries for them to follow so they know what’s okay, and not okay. It takes thousands of repetitions over lots of time, for them to develop their own internal conscience to guide them to do what is right in how they treat others and themselves.
We want to teach our children boundaries with love and not with shame. We don’t want them to feel shame inside when corrected. Shame says, “I am a bad person,” rather than “what I did was wrong.” When we set boundaries, we want them to come away with the idea that, “That was wrong for me to do, but I’m still a good person, and Mommy and Daddy still love me.”
The truth is they are not bad. They’re little kids who are learning difficult lessons about right and wrong. We want them to come away with, “I was supposed to do my chores and I didn't, so now I can't watch my favorite show” versus “I didn't do my chores, and now I'm a bad person.”
When we set healthy boundaries, we want the consequences to teach them about reality. We don't want shame to cause internal self-hatred.
Three Main Ways to Teach Boundaries
We can teach them about boundaries by:
Teaching –“If you hit your brother you’ll have to sit for a timeout.” or “If you hit your brother, you'll have to do his chores this week.”
Modeling – Kids learn from watching what we do. We are their primary models for setting boundaries and handling life. They observe how we handle frustrations, get along with others and solve problems. They watch how we take care of ourselves, the language we use, and the way we drive. They watch to see how we handle the daily responsibilities of life. It causes confusion when we tell them, “You need to follow through, clean your room, or share with your sister,” but don't follow through ourselves.
Experience – As we follow through with consequences, they will internalize reality. They need to feel the reality that when they don’t clear their dishes, they don’t get dessert.
We Reap What We Sow
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Galatians 6:7
They need us to teach them that actions have natural consequences. This is how life works. We need to give them an environment of reality. If “A” happens, then “B” happens. Without meaning to, we may jump in and rescue our kids from the natural consequences they need to experience in order to learn from their mistakes.
If we are too fuzzy with our boundaries, they will go into the world and expect other people to be lax with them too. Sometimes parents put up with behavior that no one in their future life will put up with. Teaching them reality gently will help them to be able to go out into the world, live with societal rules and be successful in life.
We Need to See the Big Picture
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however,
it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
It's hard to discipline our children. We love them and don’t want them to be unhappy or mad at us. What helped me stay consistent was reminding myself of the big picture. I parented with my children’s long-term character development in mind. If we just look at the moment, we may not understand that the boundary we are enforcing is about developing our child's character.
The boundary I’m setting at age two is about preparing my child for his teenage years. I want him to learn self-control over many years so that he is ready to handle peer pressure when it comes.
Making sure my daughter cleans up her room is about helping her complete unwanted responsibilities, so she can have a successful career and relationships. With every boundary, I realize I am shaping their character, which will determine the future of their lives.
When our son just turned two, he was trying out disobeying. His baby sister was six months old, and he decided he really wanted her toys, even though he knew he shouldn’t take them. I told him that I understood that he wanted her toys, but he could not take them from her. If he did, he would get a timeout.
Of course, he kept taking them. I followed through by telling him why this was wrong and put him in a short time out each time it happened. I remember thinking after the third time out, that this could really get out of hand if I didn’t keep on top of it.
I didn’t see him as a rebellious child. I saw him as a two-year-old who was developing his sense of self and realized he wanted some things. Our son learned that he couldn’t take his sister’s toys without experiencing a negative consequence himself. This was the beginning of developing self-control, delayed gratification, and being kind to others.
It may strike you as a lot of work to apply boundaries and limits in a consistent and kind way. The truth is it is. I always reminded myself that I could ‘pay now’ by consistently setting boundaries and applying consequences, or ‘pay later’ with a child a few years older who was out of control. The price tag is smaller when they are young.
Your Child’s Job
The reality is that our child’s job is to test our resolve so he/she can learn about reality. They don’t know what reality is like. It’s like they are in a maze, trying different things to see what works and what doesn’t. They aren’t usually trying to do the wrong thing. They rely on us to give them a picture of how the world works.
Your job is to withstand the tests, and not take the pushing of your boundaries personally. This means knowing your limits, stating the boundaries and consequences clearly, and standing firm to apply logical consequences. Part of the job is to not be surprised when our precious children pout, throw a tantrum, are angry with us or turn away. We give them a gift when we endure their displeasure with us so that they will learn how to be successful, functional adults someday.
Nobody's perfect. It's better to shoot for being consistent overall. Nobody's consistent every day. I'm not. It’s okay to apologize when we’re wrong because that’s how our kids will learn to do this too.
Tips for Setting Boundaries
- Don’t forget the love, empathy, and validation. Setting boundaries are so much easier when we have the attitude that we are teaching and guiding our children rather than punishing them.
- Make sure the consequence fits the crime.
- Make sure you use “logical consequences,” not shame, guilt, or anger.
- Comment on what they did, not who they are (you did the wrong thing, not you’re a bad kid).
- The younger the child, the more immediate the consequence.
- With very small kids…
- Say no firmly.
- Use time-outs.
- Remove them from the situation.
- Put the toy in time-out.
- With older kids…
- If they’re late for dinner, they might miss dinner.
- A story will be available at 7:30 to all who have their PJs on and teeth brushed.
- I’m happy to get your school supplies with twenty-four-hours’ notice, otherwise, you’ll have to be creative and make do.
- If chores are not completed by 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, some of your allowances will be used to pay your sister to do your chores.
- Snack will be available after you put your blocks away.
It’s okay to give extra understanding when children are going through a special circumstance, such as parents’ divorce, separation, new baby, or a parent or child illness. This doesn’t mean you let things go. It means you show them compassion by acknowledging the hard time they are going through, giving them extra time and attention, and helping them follow through.
Learning to set clear boundaries with compassion is a very important part of parenting. How we establish and enforce these boundaries also makes a huge difference. It’s not too late to start setting consistent boundaries with your children…and don’t forget the compassion! Click To Tweet
Friend, Which is more like you? Firm without enough compassion? Or Great compassion without enough firmness? How have you come to balance the two?
Kim Fredrickson is a licensed marriage and family therapist of thirty-plus years. She loves to teach others about the power of self-compassion from a faith perspective. She is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend and Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children. Kim's book will be released on 10/24/2017 but you can preorder her book through Amazon.
She recently retired from her counseling practice when diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal lung disease that developed as a rare complication of the chemotherapy and radiation she received for breast cancer.
Kim has been married to her husband, Dave for thirty-nine years and they have two grown children. Learn more and read her blog at www.kimfredrickson.com She also writes a weekly patient column for Pulmonary Fibrosis News, Just Breathe…Compassionate Help for the PF Journey. Thousands of patients and their loved ones read her column all over the world.
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Leslie, I am so, so, so sorry to hear that. Losing precious pets is just horrible, horrible. When I read that, I remember my Labrador Retriever growing up (—the angel that got me through it!). . . .We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. Creatures evolved enough to convey pure love. I will tell you this, if a Labrador; Golden Retriever, et.al. will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home, examine your conscience and repent. Dogs are the best example of a being who doesn’t need to lie to protect someone’s pride. . . . . They go out, come in, eat something, lie there, play with that, kiss you. There are less ulterior motives, generally no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied. ―And you can make a total a fool of yourself with them, and not only will they not scold you, but they will make a bloomin’ fool of themselves too. That’s so sad and I am so sorry.
“Friend, Which is more like you? Firm without enough compassion? Or Great compassion without enough firmness? How have you come to balance the two?”
Re: “Put the toy in time-out.” (Absolutely, the phone, the ipad, etc. in time-out) “A story will be available at 7:30 to all who have their PJs on and teeth brushed.” (ha, ha, ha, ha. . . absolutely).
. . . I don’t have any children but when my sister’s children come over, I guess it would be compassion without enough firmness. . . .There’s nothing more contagious than their laughter; and they laugh about anything and everything and I know most of the time they have absolutely no idea what they are laughing about, which is more than fine. ―And they can laugh so hard that it brings tears to their own eyes, my eyes ―which is so, so good because then I can laugh and even cry some too. ―Laugh, hug, and cry. Those rascals are human relief valves. . . .
You say: “. . . Setting boundaries are so much easier when we have the attitude that we are teaching and guiding our children rather than punishing them. . . “ . . . .That’s really true. I never even thought about it like that.
. . . I was listening to one of your recordings on self-soothing the other day. —I travel a lot and I am in lots of airports. —Too, too many. Kim, you said on that recording: “Ask for a hug, —not just from anyone, of course!” I started laughing so hard about that because when you travel overseas you have to be so, so very careful. Every time I think about that it makes me laugh so hard. The laughing is almost as powerful as the self-soothing!
You also say: “It may strike you as a lot of work to apply boundaries and limits in a consistent and kind way. The truth is it is. I always reminded myself that I could ‘pay now’ by consistently setting boundaries and applying consequences, or ‘pay later’ with a child a few years older who was out of control. The price tag is smaller when they are young.” . . . .Absolutely, I totally agree and my sister has a good understanding of that concept. . . .I don’t want them to be like me. —I tell them the privilege of a lifetime is being who *you* are in Christ. . . . .Honestly, they are generally so well behaved I just treat them like adults.
You also say: “. . .We want to teach our children boundaries with love and not with shame. We don’t want them to feel shame inside when corrected. Shame says, “I am a bad person,” rather than “what I did was wrong.” When we set boundaries, we want them to come away with the idea that, “That was wrong for me to do, but I’m still a good person, and Mommy and Daddy still love me.” —That is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. . . .Teach them boundaries with love and not with shame. . . . —I work a lot in counseling on shame, everything growing up was shame-based. And that is always the curious paradox: that when I love and accept myself just as I am, then I can change. . . .I don’t have to tell you that shame, blame, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. Shame is such a soul eating emotion. . . . Perfectionism is also self destructive and addictive because it fuels the “If I look perfect (totally impossible), and do everything perfectly (totally impossible), I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” . . . . “Boundaries with love and not with shame,” —I love that!!!
—Many prayers for you Kim, always —Aleea❣♡ ۵ 😊 💕
—Thank you so much!!! 💗💖💜 💟. . .
That sounds a lot like what I used to do. I had a ‘no whining’ policy. A lot of things like whining, I found that if I just totally ignored it, it would go away. Don’t like your food? Good, all the more for the rest of us.
If they fought over a toy, it was taken away and put on top of the fridge for a while. When I started that, there ended up being a lot of toys up there – they were testing me. After that, it hardly every happened. If they fought, they were separated and walked through how to be kind. I have a lot of children, and today they all really like each other. I would say, “Yes, it is normal for children to fight, but it is not Christian. If you can learn to work things out with your siblings, you can stay married.” That is, if your partner has also learned the rules of kindness.
The first time they threw a tantrum, I would step right over them and lock myself in the bathroom until they were done. Usually, the second time, it was over before I opened the bathroom door. Get fussy in the grocery store? Say nothing, abandon the cart and go straight home.
People would say, “Oh, you’re so lucky your children were born good.” Nope. Lotsa prayer and hard work. The teen years were so fun – because I caught it at age 1.
Once I had two little girls in the van whom I was baby- sitting. One had been with me for some time, one was new. I started driving, then slowly and silently began to pull over to the side. The one who’d been there longer whispered to the other, “You’d better buckle up or we aren’t going ANYWHERE!.” 🙂 🙂
I’ve heard that a good lawyer never asks a question he doesn’t already know the answer to, and I would try to stick to that. If there was a he-said-she-said argument I never asked who did it. If I didn’t see it, I would just deal with it some other way, like separating them for a while. There’s nothing worse than being accused of something you didn’t do, especially if it’s because your sibling has the more innocent expression. That is what happened with my brother and carried over into my marriages.
Connie, thanks so much for your practical suggestions
My heart and prayer are with you for the loss of your beloved Gracie. I’ve lost many dogs (as well as cats) and it’s heartbreaking.
However, they live always in our hearts.
Thank you for your godly teaching and support for us all!
In His love,
Dear Leslie, and Kim
First: to Leslie
I hope there is a cat and dog heaven as it would be brimming and overflowing with all of the pets we ever loved! So sorry to hear of the loss of Gracie. May Jesus comfort your heart. Those sweet pets loved us so very much!
And second: To Kim…
I am a grandmother so a lot of your helpful information is just as important for a Nana, to take to her heart what is helpful for raising the grandkids along with the parents who work full time at secular jobs.
I kindly thank you for the wise thoughts on disciplining with grace and truth, and also related to the category of the age of the child too.
God bless you and Leslie, both!
Thanks so much for your encouraging comments. I’m so glad this information is helpful as a Grandma too!
Leslie, Very sorry to hear about Gracie! Praying for you!
This post was helpful to me as I am trying to improve as a mother with discipline and compassion, better handle things with my children during the stressful abusive times in my marriage, and lessen (hopefully) the damage done to my children by my husband’s example. Thank you for this post!
So glad my post was helpful 🙂 Blessings to you.
. . . .I also wanted to add this observation when I do have my sisters kids over: Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods!
As I tell my sister: Any irritations are, generally, in me, not in the kids. The irritations are only reflections of my own logs and I thank God that those kids help me see those logs that remind me to work on them. . . . “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
. . . .okay, so everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a far better, deeper understanding of ourselves. Notice when you are triggered. I take slow breaths and pray. This defuses the emotional reaction and helps me find balance. I check my storyline —“What is really going on here? —Why does this even bother me? —Am I being taken advantage of?” —Or Kim’s point about kids pushing us because they are trying to understand the boundaries. I try to see the situation from their perspective. —And I use lots of the “catch them being good approach” and after I tell them specifically what was good and “I am proud of you”. . . .well, they often laugh and I love to laugh, especially at myself because life is just really crazy. I think people are their most beautiful when they are laughing, playing, *really* and *seriously* telling the deepest, *most* honest truths (—I love that!) . . . —Oh, and being chased in a fun way! . . . I don’t know what to say about Jesus because Jesus simply did not go around really laughing at stuff, that we know of. . . . .To me, laughter is a tangible evidence of hope. As I say, those kids of my sisters go around laughing at everything —Ha, ha, ha, ha. . . .What are they always laughing about? I have no idea, probably me (—Good!) . . . ha, ha, ha. . . .When people laugh together, they tend to talk and touch more and to make eye contact more frequently. It is so easy to observe. —Think about what happens when we really, really laugh. Our defenses are down. It is a very Holy-Spirit-like moment. We are completely open, completely ourselves when that message hits the brain and the laugh begins. That’s when new ideas can be implanted!!! If a new idea slips in at that moment, it has a chance to grow. . . .One thing I have noticed about my sister’s children and those at my church is that children who have faith have distinctly different characteristics from those who don’t. In fact, one of the main manifestations of a child with strong faith seems to be the ability to give —not just in terms of sharing toys or whatever, but also time, love and encouragement!
I just try to model the simple stuff with them: Respect and honor your mom. Treasure every moment with her. Pray for her every day. I let them hear my prayers for her, etc. . . .Actually, advising someone about being successful in raising children still remains an important and unsolved problem. It is incredibly nuanced and case specific but helping raise a child whether yours or not, is being anointed by God to be the guardian of His Kingdom in a form of a child. . . .For example, it seems to me that tantrums are not bad behavior, but I don’t know. Tantrums are an expression of emotion that became too much for the kid to bear. No punishment is required. What the child seems to need is compassion and safe, loving arms to unload in. If it is like other things, the absolute best way to raise ______ kids, is to be ______ parents. Always, a-l-w-a-y-s more modeling behaviour! . . .But as a women at my church always says: “I was a wonderful parent before I had children.” . . .ha, ha, ha, ha . . . .nevertheless, the metaphor of transformation deepens as we consider how a butterfly needs to struggle for its ability to fly. As everyone knows, if the chrysalis is broken by someone in an attempt to “help” the butterfly, its wings will be shriveled and immobile. . . .but I always encourage my sister that parenting is a gift for spiritual growth and to me it’s a challenge to think of anything else that fills a home with more laughter!
Aleena-thank you for this post! I do think Jesus displayed a joyous spirit that was at times quite playful and humorous…We tend to “spiritualize” the gospel accounts and sometimes miss the irony and lighter moments (and of course cultural and language nuance differences add to this) I believe Jesus loved to play with children and in fact honored their “child like faith” and told his followers to emulate them! You sound like a wonderful aunt and sister… loved the butterfly analogy!!
Sorry Aleea for the name typo!
Thanks so much Aleea!!! Wonderful thoughts as always 🙂