“Boundaries” are a favourite buzzword for parents and parenting gurus alike. We all have ‘personal boundaries,’ of course, but ‘boundaries for kids’ aren’t the personal kind, or they aren’t all the personal kind. Kids are bound in more ways than that. Many more.
“Testing for boundaries” is a very popular idea, the theory being that kids are frightened in a big, boundless world, and we therefore owe it to them to provide some boundaries, to make them feel safe.
I’m sorry, but I call bullshit.
The “big, scary, boundless world” – that is the world we all grew up in, that is the world our species evolved in, it is part of us, and we of it (or, for the religious, this big, boundless world is the one God made for us, and the one we have dominion over, rather than the other way ‘round). This unbounded world is our natural environment. We were made for it.
From where I’m at on this subject, what I see is a certain amount of chaotic parenting in a very complicated world where even if the boundaries were consistent, which they often are not, responses to the crossing of them usually aren’t.
I see kids “testing for boundaries” because there is no logical system of boundaries. After all, every culture, every nation, every creed, right down to every family has its own idea of what the boundaries need to be. To take that idea two steps further, every family is comprised of two different families’ inherited set of rules, and even within each of the two, individual differences can be big. After that, kids are individuals too. So every child’s “system of boundaries” is a one-off, as individual as fingerprints. The common factor is only that every person must learn the boundaries, or else.
All a kid can really do is test each individual boundary, each situation empirically, in the absence of any system that he could extrapolate from or deduce. That is what “testing for boundaries” is. It is a child learning which particular, strange, just invented yesterday set of rules he will be obliged to learn, or else.
What I am trying to say here, is that it isn’t a natural tendency to push limits that causes your child to test boundaries, and he isn’t going to test them to the point of jumping over a cliff, or killing someone, not naturally. It’s not a natural tendency to find out how bad he can be, what he can get away with.
He’s just trying to learn his way around in the mad, chaotic world of your rules, what you think of as your “system.”
Admit it, there is no “system,” no method to our madness. Our one-off set of rules/boundaries is the result of millennia of random culture, blended with the random experience of our parents and ourselves, along with our random reactions to that experience. Face it.
We’re weird. The worlds we make for our kids are individual, weird and random ones. They’re only trying to make sense of the senseless.