Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nagative Behaviors 3: Boundaries

For those of you who were hoping that I would finally get around to talking about something that would work, allow me to dash that hope. I want to talk about boundaries and though sometimes using boundaries results behavioral changes, but their success is not judged by that. The point of having boundaries to protect yourself from behaviors that are unsafe for you.

The problem is that I am having trouble writing about. So let me say here simply that a boundary is not a rule or an attempt at controlling other people's behavior. It is an understanding of what you will tolerate and what you will do about it if the boundary is broken. A boundary is "working" if you are safe from those behaviors. So let's say you have told someone that they cannot come to your house if they are drunk and that if you do you will lock them out or call the police if they don't leave. They test that once or twice and find that you really will call the police, and then they only come over when they are sober but still drink themselves into a stupor twice a week somewhere else. That is a boundary that is working. The consequence of calling the police was not intended to change them. As a boundary, it was not supposed to stop the person from drinking, just from being drunk at your house.

But like I said, I am finding myself uninterested in talking in details about what a boundary is.

So if you are curious or confused click the label "boundaries" at the end of the post for a list of posts. Or consider these:

A general discussion about boundaries that I wrote as a follow up to a post about not judging parenting by the results.

A series of three posts in which I try to talk about boundaries in general.

Usually when I have really tried to think in terms what rules do I need to keep me safe rather than what do I need to do to change the child, I have been "successful." The kids understand the difference without it being explained. When I tell them that I won't engage in conversation with them when they are screaming at me or calling me names, they tend to put some real effort into addressing me in ways which are respectful.

If the kids understand that this a behavioral limit or requirement is something I, Hubby, or the other kids need to be safe, they are more likely to respect it, or at least put some energy into trying. If they think I am trying to improve their character for their own good, well, we've got the makings of a power struggle.

Having thought so much about boundaries, really made my journal with Frankie easier. The boundaries did not "work" in any traditional way, but they made my decisions easier. I knew what was acceptable. I knew what I could deal with and what was outside the boundaries.

In Frankie's case his violation of the boundaries was not a matter of respect. He really couldn't live within them. His behavior was consistent with his safety or ours. I did not have to go through a period of time in which I felt angry at him for not being a "better" child or at myself for not being able to fix him.

It was what it was. review...I've been trying to write a series of posts about negative behaviors. Though I have more I want to say, so far I have tried to argue: changing behavior is not nearly as easy as some would have us believe; some behaviors are not changeable; and we have the right and ability to protect ourselves from behaviors that are not safe for us.

Everybody in a really good mood?

See Jo, what happens when you ask for tips for new foster parents? I bet the newbies are really encouraged by this, huh?


  1. There are two "behavior modifications" (if you think of the term broadly) that do work in the long run, I think: structure and emotional regulation. Actually, maybe providing structure is a way to help a child learn to emotionally regulate him/herself. Emotional regulation is essential (as you learned with Frankie) and is learned through relationship and is disrupted by trauma, so many foster kids are in severe need of it.

  2. Well, no one can say that you've stopped writing meaningful, insightful posts just because you don't have any current kids outside the bio boys.

    I'm almost scared to see what's going to post tomorrow ha ha!


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