Children need boundaries

Childhood anxiety is often the result of poor boundaries that encourage insecurity.

Children need to feel secure to grow.

Children need to feel secure to grow.

One of the great issues children suffer from is anxiety.  This anxiety spawns many symptoms from suicide to bullying.  An industry has been built up to profit from childhood anxiety in the form of therapists to drugs, an industry which would rather the child continue to exist in this anxious state.  Anxiety spins off because of insecurity, and the insecurity is caused by ineffective boundaries, the solution is healthy boundaries.

Children are a resource, like seed in the ground, they are potential, a resource that is still to manifest and flower.  The carer and teacher are the gardeners, and society provides the soil in which these seeds will grow from.  Like everything humanity has poisoned the soil in which these seeds are growing, and the gardeners are less skilled and wise in their ability than former generations.

All children need security if they are to flourish. If the child is anxious they waste energy on dealing with the crisis rather than growing.  The answer is healthy boundaries, which provide protection, opportunities to grow and a structure for the child to build a world view of self and reality.  The current boundaries that the majority of children encounter in the English-speaking world are bad, they fail to provide opportunities to grow, and are so vague that the child has little idea what or where they are.


Yasmeen Olya makes a good point on how to protect children in her blog post. Anything that makes a child feel insecure leads to anxiety, which pulls away resources that could have been used for growing.  If there are troubles in the family or in the world, the child has no need to know about it.  Protection is age and ability dependent, a child should only come into contact with sex, violence and the problems of society when they are emotionally able to handle it; if they come against anything they are not ready for they suffer anxiety on a crippling level.  Television, video games and internet would be better eliminated or severely limited for most pre-teens.


Children grow if they are given the opportunity to play, experience and do. One of the important opportunities is giving children access to nature.  Nature is a great teacher, it will present children with natural challenges that prepare the child emotionally for the raw world of human society.  Children will encounter sex, death, suffering, violence in nature, as well as the living, nurturing, beauty and nobility that nature provides too. Children can play, swim, dig, climb and create in a social experiential environment.  There are many forms of opportunity beyond nature, and they all provide growing opportunities as longs as they are unstructured and available.  Opportunities need only adults to teach skills and knowledge, but the process or route the child chooses to create and explore should be left to them.  The human body is designed for activity so all opportunities are good if they encourage physical, emotional and intellectual activity in a liberated open way.  See for what I mean about opportunities.


To a certain extent children come into the world with no sense of self or reality.  It is through play, doing and experience that the child slowly constructs a world view.  The child automatically borrows a world view from their carers and teachers as a substitute whilst they slowly construct their own.  It is down to the carer and teacher to provide a clear world view for the child which sets the limits which the child works in.  If the boundaries are unclear or invisible the child has no idea who they are or where they are in the world; suddenly the world grows into a large and dangerous place, insecurity sets in and then so does anxiety.  The structure starts off restricted with few choices, but grows as the child grows.

Boundaries that are ability dependent

Whilst age provides a good framework around which to construct boundaries, with greater experience it would be better to construct the boundaries based on ability.  Take for example a highly intelligent child, they will need boundaries that are less restrictive than a normal ability student.  Likewise a child with disabilities need more restrictive boundaries than a normal ability child.

I end with a video of an intelligent child who needed a university rather than normal school to satisfy their intellectual needs.  Though such a child preferred adult company to that of their age group, they still need strong emotional boundaries.


13 responses to “Children need boundaries

  1. I completely agree, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your post 🙂

  2. Boundaries are a very important issue but parenting I think is the area most in need of review. Most people I’ve talked with have never formed, not to mention faced, the central question of parenting: what is your goal? Once this question is faced openly and honestly, only then can we begin to really delve into the concrete questions, like What is it you are trying to accomplish and how do we get from here to there? When there is confusion about the central goal of parenting, there will be confusion all the way down the line and this, I think, is very much where childhood anxiety begins.

    Teaching children means guiding and supporting their development according to their abilities and interests and capabilities. But sometimes we allow our biases effect to undermine and conflict with this development. For example, when you write “Like everything humanity has poisoned…” you introduce a bias that then causes negative effect on how we explore and make mistakes. Humanity causes effects. How we go about accounting for these is a very important component in ethics and morality… areas in need of development not just in childhood but throughout life. Again, how we teach this is more important than what we teach if our goal is to produce a healthy, responsible, autonomous, well-adjusted adult citizen. Humanity is very much a part of nature and not something external to it.

    I think you miss the boat entirely when you write, “if they come against anything they are not ready for they suffer anxiety on a crippling level. Television, video games and internet would be better eliminated or severely limited for most pre-teens.” I know of no parents forcing electronic entertainment on children, and trying to avoid some of the associated problems that come with it in the name of children not ‘ready’ for it is a complete cop out. Like anything, electronic entertainment itself is not the issue but how well children incorporate it into enhancing their lives is. Imagine my surprise you post a video about just such a child allowed to develop at his pace and in his way with electronics and computer technology if your advice had been followed (I suspect you assume that the child – and he is a child – was ‘ready’ before he began programming because he didn’t suffer from acute anxiety after he started! If so, your assumption is exactly backwards.). The point here is that good parenting prepares the emotional ground for coming up against all kinds of stuff for which children – by definition – are not ‘ready’ and having ways to cope appropriately. In a very real sense, none of us is ‘ready’ for all we must face throughout life and this includes parenting! Crippling anxiety is a self-induced reaction based on a personal lack which, when exhibited by children, is a pretty good indication of some significant failure (that can then be corrected through learning) of good parenting. And good parenting – like growing up – is a process and not a product.

    • Hi Tildeb, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Parenting tends to be more a question of wisdom and doing rather than as an intellectual exercise. All new parents have some idea of parenting that they inherit from being parented as children. Girls often reinforce their role with pretend-play as parents, sometimes joined by boys too. As a new parent in former years the individual was supported by a network of experienced carers, as well as reading books. But the main way parents learnt how to care for children was trial and error, by just doing it. Modern day challenges include the intellectualism of parenting; the interference of the State with a mentality that parents cannot be trusted to raise their own children; the break up of family and community which weakens support networks and access to wisdom of others; the poor parenting of children who then are unable to benefit from skills and wisdom via their parents treatment of them; and the pressure to separate parents away from children, to make the parents work long hours, in leaving children with childminders rather than parents. Had all these challenges been absent then wisdom would have been available enabling the parents without much thinking to parent their offspring in a healthy and skilful way.

      It is quite true that humanity is part of nature, but the processes that are used by humanity is unnatural forcing humanity into unnatural attitudes, action and results. I consider that one can reach a conclusion based upon opinion or upon observation. When I suggest that humanity manages to poison for instance the development of children, this is deduced from what I see is happening, it is not opinion but is a truth from what I see. To find solutions all must come to the table with clear eyes of what the problem is, eliminating the prejudice of fantasies and opinion.

      If a fox is dumped amongst chickens the result is a bloody mess. The same goes for television, video games and internet; they are not forced upon anyone, but are a source of toxic influences and anxiety for children, their elimination from the process will immediately pay healthy dividends in child development.

      I advocate the best way to place boundaries is based on ability, the second best way is based on age. The boy (aged 14) I show in the video at the end of the blog post has an ability that requires boundaries to be adapted to his needs, which means they would be less restrictive than say a normal ability child. I would advocate for most children before age 13 no television, no video games and no internet.

      I agree that parenting is a process, it is a mix of wisdom, skill and knowledge which is picked up from many sources. The problem is that all sources have become undermined, and most parents are significantly weaker in parenting ability than their ancestors.

      • The same (making a bloody mess in the lives of children) goes for television, video games and internet; they are not forced upon anyone, but are a source of toxic influences and anxiety for children, their elimination from the process will immediately pay healthy dividends in child development.

        This simply not true but a profound bias that will adversely affect a parent/child relationship when the child finds out you have been lying to him or her, that TV can be a window to the world of other people’s challenging, pathetic, triumphant and ordinary lives, that video games can be a source of great fun and entertainment, that the internet is a library of human knowledge, a means to instant global communication, a platform for social networking, a way to personalize one’s involvement in any area of interest, and a necessary component of a competitive economic life. Training children in how to use all these tools appropriately can never be achieved by banning them from their home lives. This approach is nothing more than an avoidance technique that shifts the responsibility to learn how to use them entirely on to the child. It’s unfair and damaging to a healthy development.

        Look, we need to teach kids how to be their own disciplinarians, and this includes how to handle fear and anxiety in productive and positive ways. And note the root of the word, disciple, meaning to teach. There are many ways to do this but it’s really handy to have an achievable goal against which one can compare and contrast parental actions that either help or harm in their attainment. And each child is unique. The comment about a gifted child shows exactly this. As parents, we are obligated to do the best we can, and this necessarily means teaching ourselves. There are signposts that allow us to constantly measure and adjust our own performance in this task, and one the main ones is very simple: are we reacting or pro-acting? We come equipped to copy our own parents styles and techniques but most of us are painfully aware of the more blatant shortcomings we experienced. And we can do better. Allowing reality to teach our kids is part and parcel of figuring out self-coping skills and learning to respect that life and nature simply doesn’t care about our personal welfare. We need to tackle that and good parenting helps us do just that. Banning elements of influence from reality and calling this arbitrary action ‘appropriate boundaries’ is highly problematic when we know perfectly well that these influences play a major role in human social life at all ages. The trick for parents is figuring out how best to use them for their positive benefits while circumventing their negative influences in ways that empower our children to reach our goals for them, namely, a healthy, happy, well adjusted, responsible and caring adult.

      • Hi tildeb,

        With regards to eliminating television, internet and video games from the lives of children under age 13 I believe this to be a good thing. Children of this age are too young to be expected to cope with the toxic negativity that those mediums bring. Children have no sense of reality at this young age so are not capable of handling the sort of material as say we adults can. Studies tend to support the position that these toxic mediums are better eliminated from the diet of children.

        By providing opportunities for children to play and to explore nature they will learn discipline and how to deal with their emotions. It is for the parent to use their wisdom based upon the ability and age of the child to limit the toxic and to enhance the positive learning experiences for the child.

  3. I’d like to recommend a wonderful book that addresses this topic (the author found the level of anxiety and PTSD symptoms suffered by middle-class children in west-London to be unusually high). As a result, Kim John Payne wrote Simplicity Parenting, a book which provides guidelines to lessen anxiety in our children. Basically, less is more. Turn off the TVs, especially the news, in the presence of children. Don’t discuss financial problems or health problems in front of the children. Simplify our children’s schedules. Less is truly more. Downtime is missing in the lives of most children today. They are rushed from school to soccer practice to music lessons, only to return home to an abundance of homework. Where is the time for free-play, quiet reflection, and boredom? Provide fewer toys. Having too many toys makes a home cluttered, decreasing a child’s attention span and ability to focus. Have dinner with our children regularly. It provides stability and quality family time. Children thrive in an environment of predictability, in which their lives have a steady rhythm. Basically, childhood should be a time of feeling safe, to give them time to learn and grow and love.

    And, yes, Alex, I agree that children need more boundaries. When boundaries are clear, a child knows what to expect and what behavior is acceptable. When they know how far they can run, when they understand how rough they can play, when they know what behavior is allowed where, then they are free to play and grow without the stress of the unknown. I see too many parents with “flexible” boundaries. What is acceptable for the child one day is a no-no the next. Consequences may change from one day to the next, even from one hour or minute to another. The child becomes confused and anxious. Also, our job as parents is to raise our children to be self-supporting, society-contributing adults. It is not our job to be our child’s best friend. The key is to provide boundaries, and within those boundaries, allow our children the freedom to explore, make mistakes, and grow.

    • Hi Linda, thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight. I have made a note to order the book “Simplicity Parenting”. You have defined the problems and solutions of parenting children simply and eloquently 🙂

  4. Great post Alex. I have a gifted daughter and find myself being more relaxed with her boundaries because I know she knows better. There are times though, (a lot lately) when she pushes the boundary to see what she can get away with, which all kids do. I need to remember that even though she is super smart that she is young and still needs boundaries to keep her on the right path. Super smart kids are always at risk for getting bored at school, thinking they are smarter than the teacher, or you, and becoming discipline problems. There is a very fine line between necessary boundaries and over protecting, which prevents growth.

    • Hi TreeHugginVamp, it takes wisdom to get the boundaries right, which is through trial and error. When children know the boundaries that gives them a basis upon which to build their own reality, which they will test and continue to push against, as it should be. The problem when boundaries are invisible is that the child has no foundations upon which to build a sense of self, to test themselves against.

  5. Completely agree. I had to learn to expand my boundaries as an adult. A lot to go into here, but you get the gist.

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