Begging for Boundaries

Having more than two decades of teaching experience in a variety of settings, along with being a parent, I have realized that children ask for help in many ways. As infants, they cry. We learn which cry says “I’m hungry,” which tears aks, “Up!” which yell screams, “I’m tired.” Later, as children grow, they continue asking for help. Intuitively knowing they must rely on others (usually their parents, sometimes teachers or others), kids find ways of letting those in charge know they need help. From raising a hand in the classroom to ask for assistance, to ringing a doorbell to sell magazines, kids learn ways to find help when they need it.

As they get older and become tweens and teens, the help they seek takes different forms. Their intuition is still intact, yet the problems they face are often far more challenging, so using just intuition to navigate problem solving still serves but may prove to be unreliable with more complex issues. When they misbehave, children look to those in charge to help them make better choices. Kids know that, eventually, they will have to face the world on their own. That’s what the goal is anyway: to leave home and become independent people. So when they stumble, they look to the adults around them for guidance as to how to rein in their behavior so as to become responsible adults and honorable citizens in the future.

Is your child begging for boundaries

This reality makes it vital to pay attention to kids when they make mistakes. If they make a single mistake, a quick, simple re-direct and reminder of expectations often suits to remedy the situation. But if a mistake goes unacknowledged, the child will likely accelerate the misbehavior to get an adult’s attention. If another mistake gets ignored, likely further escalation of behavior ensues, which may indicate the emergence of a pattern and therefore, possibly a problem

In my own experience as a teacher and as a parent, I have witnessed children escalate behavior until it gets noticed—and consequences provided—which then remedies the conduct. In one such instance, I observed a student who had never once smiled in my classroom become giddy when she realized she had consequences for misbehavior. Another student escalated his behavior from writing on a textbook in pencil to writing on a school wall in permanent marker. Because no one could prove the student had written the comment on the wall, his parents provided no consequences. His behavior escalated to spray painting graffiti on some government buildings. The punishment was severe, with thousands of dollars in fines and community service.

It is our job as the adults in charge to notice when children are begging for boundaries and provide them. It takes work. It requires our observation, our participation and our considered thought as well as measured response. If we provide these basic provisions for our children by giving them reasonable boundaries, we have created an environment in which kids may thrive. In such an environment, they don’t need to keep begging for boundaries.

About the author:

Sarah Turitto holds a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential in the State of California with CLAD and BCLAD certification. With more than two decades of teaching experience, she has taught both Special and Mainstream Education in public and private schools. Her areas of expertise include Middle School Mathematics, Science & Language Arts.