Whole Picture Parenting

A holistic approach to children's emotional and behavioural challenges

BLOG:   12 June 2023

How To Draw Boundaries 

(without the wheels coming off!)


A Moment of Connection


Start by taking a moment to remember an experience you had with your child, when you felt really connected with them. Maybe you were playing together or telling your child a story. Maybe your child learned to ride a bike or scooter and you were able to share in that moment of joy and discovery. Or if things have been incredibly stressful and you’re finding it hard to remember a connected moment, make yourself a cup of tea and take some time to imagine feeling connected in the future.

What is it like to feel that love and connection? Can you feel it in your body?

I hope taking the time to ‘wallow’ in a happy moment has put a smile on your face. 😊 Wouldn’t it be nice if we could feel connected like that all the time? 

What if we could say “no” to our kids when we need to, without losing that feeling of love and connection?


Drawing Boundaries

A lot of parents feel stressed at the mere thought of drawing boundaries. We start to get tense in anticipation of not being listened to, of having to engage in conflicts, arguments, yelling and meltdowns. (Sorry if I have rudely wiped that smile off your face and given you a headache just thinking about it! 🤕)

The way I think about it, as a parent you are wearing two hats. On the one hand, you’re the CEO. You have all the relevant information about the weather, health and hygiene, education, culture and lifestyle and it’s up to you to make the rules based on your expertise. This includes when it’s time for your child to brush their teeth, whether they’re allowed to have a treat and what time you need to leave the house to get to school. It’s the parents’ job to make these decisions.

It's natural that your child may not always like your decisions. Maybe they don’t really feel like brushing their teeth because jumping on the bed is more fun. Maybe all the other kids are eating treats or maybe shopping is a bit boring and it would be more fun with a sweet. Maybe your child would rather stay in their pyjamas today or they might be anxious about facing the day at school. When you think about it, those are all pretty valid reasons 😉

This is usually where we get unstuck. We feel the push back and start to argue, to defend our position and to try to ‘make’ our child do as we say. The emotional tug-of-war is about to begin… suddenly parent and child are on opposing teams, trying to win the upper hand. Urgh!

OK… shall we try something else? Remember that love and connection piece? What if we could slot it in here? Could it be that part of the puzzle that looks like it couldn’t possibly fit - but then it does?

But how can you get back to the love and connection when you are getting triggered? When you are feeling upset that your child is not doing what you ask? When your child’s behaviour is getting worse by the second, heading towards a full-blown meltdown? 

The thing is, you are your child’s greatest ally. You’re the one that can see the whole picture of your child’s world, their joys, their struggles, their outward actions and their inner experience. You’re the one who can comfort them when they are sick, encourage them when things are tough and stand up for them when they need support. (Headache’s gone… could somebody please pass the tissues? 🥹)

If we can understand our child’s resistance as just another struggle… then we can take on the role that comes so naturally to us when our child has a fever or when they are having trouble with their homework. The role of carer and coach.



Helping your child accept your boundaries

Accepting boundaries requires your child to change their thinking and manage their feelings. They might wish they could keep jumping on the bed, have that treat or stay in their pyjamas all day. Now they have to adjust to having to brush their teeth, not get to have the treat or go to school. They may feel disappointed about not being able to do what they wanted or feel bored, sad or apprehensive about what they are being asked to do instead.

Like learning to walk, ride a bike or do algebra, managing our feelings - and being flexible in our thinking - are skills that need to be learned and practised. So what can we take from walking, bike riding and algebra to help us support our children in managing their feelings?

•    When our kids learn to walk, we understand that stumbling is part of the process of learning. We expect them to fall and cry and try again and we are there with open arms to give them love and encouragement.

•    When our kids learn to ride a bike, we believe that they are trying their best and have every confidence that they will become competent riders in good time.

•    When our kids are learning algebra, we understand that even when they are already pretty good at it, under the pressure of a test situation, they may make mistakes.


Let’s take that mindset and use it to help our child accept our boundaries… how might that look?


1.    Expect your child’s struggle and accept their feelings. 
Remember that you don’t want to shut down your child’s experience, you want to teach them how to manage it. You’re the coach, helping your child to understand their emotions and navigate the expectation you have set.


2.    Make space for your child’s reaction. 
Give your child your full attention. Listen and ask questions to understand what they are feeling and thinking. Why is the boundary difficult for your child? Do they want the treat because they are actually hungry or because they are looking for some joy? By making space for their experience, listening to them and validating their feelings, you can help your child calm down. In time, they will learn that they don’t need to get so worked up in the first place; they can stay calm and express their feelings, trusting that you will be open to listen to them. 

3.    Connection and Collaboration
Once you understand what is driving your child’s struggle, you can work together to find a solution which meets their needs and yours. If your child is actually hungry, you might be able to meet that need by giving them a healthy snack instead of the sweet; if they were wanting some fun, you could play a word game or sing a silly song on the way home. 

Instead of engaging in a power-struggle, you are engaging in collaborative problem solving and creating a deeper connection with your child in the process. In fact, sometimes the perfect solution may elude you, but the process of connecting with each other with the genuine intention of meeting each other’s needs may be enough to resolve the situation.

4.    Training Wheels
If your child is having trouble finding their balance on that metaphorical bike today – aka having a massive meltdown – that’s OK. Learning takes time. Remember that the process is more important than the solution. Stay calm, manage the situation as best you can and then find a moment later that day or the next, when the child is calm, to reflect on the situation. Make sure you come from a place of openness, without judgement or criticism. If your child knows that you genuinely want to understand their experience, they will get better at having these conversations. Why was that boundary so difficult for your child? Perhaps you can find a solution outside of the moment, which you will be able to apply next time.

Perhaps your child hasn’t got the language or the self-awareness to be able to articulate their experience very well. All the more reason to engage in this way! You can make suggestions about what you think they may have experienced and check with them eg “Do you think you were feeling anxious about going to school?” By creating a safe non-punitive space for the child to explore their feelings, you are giving them an opportunity to develop self-awareness and learn to articulate their experience – two hugely important skills required for emotional regulation.

If your child is frequently unable (or appears to be unwilling) to live up to your expectations for seemingly no reason... there may be a reason for your child’s behaviour hidden just below the surface. Uncovering it can make a world of difference! Perhaps your child was unable to meet your demand to get dressed in the morning because they're hypersensitive to the feeling of clothes on their skin or because their nervous system was not in a calm enough state to process or comply with your request. Perhaps your child is low in certain nutrients, being triggered by food additives or by an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Understanding what might be driving your child’s behaviour can be life-changing. For more information, sign up for The Meltdown Reduction Project and/or book in a free introductory coaching session. I will also write more about these challenges in future blog posts!

Let me know how you get on! I’d love to hear from you.