Why Boundaries Help Children to Feel Safe

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr.

When children are learning and developing in the early years it’s important that they have the opportunity to make choices, explore their world and take risks. This helps to build resilience and a positive sense of self whilst learning about themselves and their world.

Children like to feel in control and need to be allowed space for this occur. However, as adults we need to set clear and consistent boundaries that allow children a safe space to learn and develop. If we allow children positive choices and the flexibility to move within the boundaries (think of a set of tram lines), it allows for a sense of autonomy and accomplishment, contributing to a positive sense of self. When children cross the line that has been set to keep them safe there should be a consistent, gentle and safe approach that guides them back into the acceptable and safe zone.

Our own experience of being parented, our socio-cultural background, our personal values and beliefs will all influence our view on what makes an appropriate and safe boundary for our child.

“Always be bigger stronger wiser and kind.”

Circle of Security Parenting 2019

Children need to know that a kind, caring and trusted adult is able to step in and take control of a situation when necessary. Many decades of research have informed the Circle of Security Parenting Model. The Circle of Security literature suggests that children respond best to sensitive and responsive parenting. As adults it is our job to always be “bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.”

Inconsistent and unpredictable responses to children can lead to confusion, anxiety, a lack of trust and feeling unsafe. It can also impact on the developing relationship and attachment style in the early years.

Some children will test and push the boundaries to work out if the adult truly has control of the situation. When we are consistent, fair and predictable in our responses, we are building trust. Not only trust that we are reliable, but it also demonstrates that we are in control of the situation. This can help reduce anxiety in children and they can feel reassured that someone they trust will be there when they need it.

In order to respond appropriately, we need to be very clear on the boundaries that we set and be in control of our own emotions. If we are not regulated and our emotions are heightened, then we are not able to effectively take charge of the situation in the way that children need us to.

Children that struggle with trust and who have not had a positive experience of feeling safe will push harder to keep checking for your response. They may also feel that they need to be in control due to anxiety created by past experiences with unsafe, inconsistent or unpredictable adult relationships. This is why it is even more important to remain calm, patient and predictable in the responses that we provide.

The key points to remember are that all children need a loving adult in their lives to set clear and consistent boundaries in which they have some choice and control in their life. They also need a calm and predictable adult to lovingly guide them safely back within the tram lines when necessary. Ultimately, we want our children to grow up safe, resilient and healthy whilst experiencing the richness of their world.