Here are some reflections and resources from the drop-in sessions for Parents struggling with Teens in Crisis.
Boundaries are hard! Nearly all participants agreed with these statements..
" I often say yes to my teen when I feel like saying no"
"I feel like I need to fix my teens problems"
"I feel anxious, guilty when I have to enforce a boundary, and establish consequences".
#1 - Our emotions tell us when to set a boundary
We need to look at ourselves and see what inside us is triggered by what is happening. When we feel angry, anxious, fearful, uneasy, we need to see these emotions as messengers telling us we need to create a limit. So we look to the inside, rather than from the outside, and what someone else is doing, to see if we need a boundary..
#2 - We need to work through our discomfort to set effective boundaries
Our struggle with implementing boundaries is often our mis-guided desire to keep our kids calm and happy. Our attempts to save teens from their feelings, only sends a message about our belief in their lack of capacity and resilience for life. As such, the key piece of this we need to work on is our own discomfort, which is our responsibility, not managing their reactions, which has nothing to do with us.
#3 - Boundaries = safety for our kids
Boundaries create safety for our kids. They communicate that we say what we mean, that we can be trusted and that we will be responsible for our own feelings. Real empathy and is only possible in the presence of effective boundaries.
#4 - Boundaries are not about controlling others
Boundaries are a fence built around us, not around others. We can’t control what others do, just what we will permit within our fence - which is ourselves and our homes. We don’t hold boundaries to make someone else respect us, but out of respect/love for ourselves.We discuss boundaries using “I statements” to clarify the boundaries about what is acceptable to us based on our needs and values, not an attempt to control someone else.
”When I smell weed in my home, I feel uncomfortable and so I will remove any drugs I see in the house”
# 5 - Strong back, soft front
Communication and holding of boundaries requires a “strong back and soft front”. The strong back comes from the confidence that our boundaries are aligned with our authentic truth, and the soft front from our tenderness and compassion. To strengthen our ability to implement and hold boundaries, we can adopt the practice of envisioning what it would feel like in our bodies to successfully have this strong back and soft front. Then, when the moment comes to hold a limit, we can return back to this feeling in our bodies, allowing us to bring an embodied energy to our interaction, rather than a scramble for the right words.
# 6 - Boundaries - our truth, no explanations needed
We get caught up in trying to justify our boundaries, trying to convince teens with logic so they are less likely to push back. We end up getting tangled in arguments which put us on the defense trying to unnecessarily rationalize a position, leaving us exhausted and defeated. A boundary derived from our core values, is our truth, and ours to hold, regardless of what anyone says. Speak your truth with short phrases.
# 7 - Influence comes from our self-awareness
Sometimes we feel we lack the authority to hold boundaries and implement consequences (including allowing for natural consequences). As children become teenagers, our authority necessarily shifts to influence. Influence starts from self-awareness, of our feelings and of our agendas, and “cleaning up” we bring to our connection with kids. The second component is creating a structure (boundaries), without which we can’t have influence.
# 8 - Natural consequences - our greatest allies
When our kids are in crisis, natural consequences often seem a high price to pay. There are of course times when we must step in because the risk is too great, and there are times that we have to step back and allow for the world to be a teacher. It may feel uncomfortable, even excruciating for us, yet we have to let go and believe that our young person’s life will unfold in surprising ways, if we can get out of the way!
# 9 - Connection - Energy speaks louder than words
We’ve mentioned many times the importance of “connection before correction” which holds for implementing boundaries as well. Connection is facilitated by engaging with our kids without an agenda, and bringing curiosity and lightness. It also comes from being extremely conscious of the energy we are bringing such as fear, anxiety, shame. Our kids sense this, regardless of what our words say. We need to work on holding an image in our minds of our kids as whole and capable, not sick or broken.
“How we think about our children is more important than what we do to them. The quality of an intervention or a behavioral technique is not as important as how we hold our children in our mind if we see them as bad, broken or sick, it doesn't matter what we do. Our anxiety will leak out subtly and all they will see is that we think they are bad, It is critical that we learn to see them in their goodness, even when their behavior makes this difficult. If they sense that we are embarrassed or ashamed of them, they will absorb that negative energy and realize that our behavior is not coming from a place of love.” The Journey of the Heroic Parent - Brad Reedy.
Setting Boundaries While Creating Safety -Evoke Therapy
High Quality Boundaries - Evoke Therapy
How to Set and Hold Boundaries Melissa Urban - We Can Do Hard Things
Setting Boundaries around Teen Substance Abuse - Brenda Zane on Joyful Courage
Setting boundaries takes practice!! We can’t judge the effectiveness of our limit setting by our kids' behavior, but instead by our increasing confidence.