Daring Ducks: How to Make Boundaries Work

I would never have thought I’d learn about boundaries from a farmer and his ducks.

On a trip to Bali, long before everyone else had been to Bali too, my friends and I stayed in a home in Ubud. One afternoon, as we walked back from a nearby jungle full of cheeky pick-pocketing monkeys, we encountered a farmer walking his ducks.

I can still see the farmer dressed in his traditional rural Bali clothing, complete with a broad-brimmed thatched hat. In his hand he held a thin rod of cane – about three metres long.

Waddling up the path in front of him were several hundred ducks. Most of the ducks walked straight ahead, as though they’d walked the same way dozens of times.

But on each side of the raft of ducks, there were the more daring ducks who kept trying to veer off into neighbouring fields, wandering off from the remainder of their buddies.

Whenever this would happen, the farmer would very gently stretch out the cane in front of him, but to the side of the raft of ducks. By gently alternating his stick from one side of the ducks to the other, the farmer effectively created a physical “V” boundary.

Only those dauntlessly daring ducks who wandered a little further than the edge of the flock ever felt the cane. And never did they feel it as a weapon – more like safety rails on a walk, or bumpers on a ten-pin-bowling alley.

So there were several dozen plucky ducks leading the flock, knowing where they were going, the daring ducks and their buddies in the middle and only a handful of dawdlers who stayed at the back, close to the farmer.

The ‘V’ of Love

Years later, when I was introduced to the ‘V’ of love’ memories of the farmer and his ducks rushed back into my brain.

In her book ‘How to parent so children will learn: clear strategies for raising happy, achieving children’ Dr. Sylvia Rimm* uses the ‘V of love’ as an illustration of how boundaries can be applied effectively.

Boundaries work best when they grow as our children grow.

Picture the sides of a ‘V’ as boundaries, and the length of each side as a time-line.

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If we picture a baby at the bottom of the ‘V’, we can see that babies are restricted in freedom, have limited choices and no responsibility. Their place in the ‘V’ of love’ is within firm, close, nurturing boundaries.

As the baby grows, her freedom, choices and responsibilities within the ‘V’ should grow in proportion to her stage of development. The boundaries expand as she grows.

We can give our children safe and reasonable boundaries

If we’re aware of our child’s development, we can give them safe and reasonable boundaries that allow them to explore, stretch and grow. And to retreat into when necessary.

Rather than being restrictive, effective boundaries are like safety barriers at the sides of steep, narrow, windy roads. They don’t hold us onto the road. But they give us the security that if we wander too far to the right or left, there’s something that will stop us from damaging ourselves.

Within the boundaries of the “V” of love, there needs to be an expanding volume of choices, complete with consequences (especially positive ones), freedom and responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions as to how boundaries need to change as a child grows.

Toddler

For example, reasonable choices for a toddler might include a choice between two options such as:

  • Would you like apple or banana?
  • Would you like to wear the green shirt or the purple shirt today?
  • How are you going to get to bed tonight? Will daddy give you a horse-ride on his back, or will he carry you in his arms?

The boundaries are set:

  • Children need to eat nutritious snacks.

It’s the parent’s responsibility to provide a nutritious choice. The child chooses whether to eat and how much they’ll eat.

  • These are the clothes you can choose from.

This gives your toddler an amount of control suitable for their age and development. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch a child in a department store being given free-reign. Too many choices are overwhelming. Let their choices expand as they’re able to handle them.

  • The toddler’s freedom and choices remain within the boundaries of a familiar bed-time routine.

Eight year old

An eight year old might like to have a bigger choice of which clothes to wear, but with that comes responsibility.

For example: If she forgets to pick her clothes up off the floor she can choose to pay 50c  for every article of clothing dad picks up at the end of the day – or she can figure out and negotiate an alternative.

Eight year olds LOVE the opportunity to debate. Don’t take it personally.  Try to use it as an opportunity to encourage respectful negotiating techniques.

The boundaries are set:  Clothes belong in the cupboard.  If you’re old enough to shop for your clothes, you’re old enough to look after them.  (I’m still working on this one!)

Fifteen year old

A fifteen year old can probably manage his own finances for clothes, mobile phone, social outings and gifts for friends – and learn to save and be charitable.

The boundaries are set – “This is your allowance. If you believe you need more, you will need to negotiate or you will have to find a job.”

Wise parents remain available to help and guide through budgeting at this stage. Allowing teens to have responsibility for managing their own money, within stretching boundaries, gives them the knowledge to be able to manage their finances later.

Some kids will continue to test the boundaries

Just like the daring ducks, some kids will continue to test the boundaries. Some will discover new ways to teach the parents about different dimensions in parenting.

Hang in there, parents! If they are testing out new boundaries, you may need to stretch the boundaries a little or patch up some holes in the boundaries. And be prepared to apologize for not having appropriate boundaries in place that may have protected them from the consequences of unwise choices.

If your kids haven’t had safe, secure boundaries, it’s never too late – but you’ll probably need to find someone who can guide you through applying boundaries to older kids. Speak to the teachers at your school, your GP, or other parents who you know have a great relationship with their older kids.

The ‘V’ of Love works. Kids (and parents) appreciate the security of knowing they are safe between boundaries set by someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.

They tend to respect boundaries when they can see them growing with added choices and freedom. And, believe it or not, they take pride in accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions–good and bad.

By the time they’re independent enough to borrow the car, kids who’ve grown up with ”V’ of love’ boundaries have had the experience of making wise and not-so-wise choices, and are more prepared to navigate safely through adulthood.

And, just like the Plucky ducks up the front, they’re likely to lead the world in the right direction.

 

 

*Used with permission. Thank you to Dr. Sylvia Rimm for permission to cite her book and webpage. www.sylviarimm.com

Thanks to Kay for the photo of a Balinese farmer and his ducks.

Originally published as ‘PLUCKY DUCKS’ in The Lutheran

Watch them take off and fly!

Tiarna was only 12 months old when we moved to Memphis. Within weeks of our arrival, she made friends with a particular gorilla in the Memphis Zoo.

We lived only a mile away from the zoo. With a family membership, we visited up to three times a week – often enough for Tiarna and the gorilla to form quite a bond.

The gorilla would see us coming, early in the morning, and climbed up to the viewing window. Tiarna climbed up onto the ledge on our side of the window and the gorilla sat next to her on the other side of the glass. There they sat, copying each other and communicating in some form that seemed to mean they would look for each other the next time.

Jesse was nearly three. He seemed to have two speeds – full speed and asleep. The ‘rangle-tangles’ (that’s Hahn-children language for orangutans) were not as accessible as the gorillas. But they knew us well enough to wave to us – particularly to our little, blonde, bouncy Jesse.

We soon discovered that Jesse had an amazing affinity with birds. Memphis Zoo had an indoor, thermostatically-controlled aviary where birds from all over the world were free to fly around, all year round.

Inside the aviary, we wandered along the paths very slowly. Often we stopped to sit and practice being very quiet.

Jesse sat on a low rock wall and birds came right up to him – most often a bleeding-heart dove and her chick. Many people asked  to photograph Jesse with the birds within centimetres of his face.

It was almost magical … until the peace shattered when someone burst into the aviary, running, shouting and sometimes even chasing the birds.
We had lived in Memphis for a couple of years when the zoo installed a Butterfly House. On our first visit we wandered through with Jesse’s pre-school group and a tour-guide.

During the tour, many butterflies landed and stayed on the floral dress I wore – obviously attracted to the colour of the flowers.

The children were fascinated, and I felt rather privileged… until I wriggled and they flew away.

At the end of the tour, we watched butterflies emerge from cocoons. One butterfly hatched completely and took its first flight while we watched.
On my next visit, I remembered to wear the same dress. I stood still in the Butterfly House and about a dozen butterflies settled on my ‘flowers’.

Other people noticed and came to have a closer look.

A girl came up to me and demanded that the butterflies come on to her dress.
She yelled at me.
She yelled at her mother.
She yelled at the butterflies.
The butterflies took flight and flew to the farthest corners of the enclosure.
The child reminded me of the children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
So did her mother.

The mother pleaded with me to help to get butterflies onto her daughter – as if I had a magic wand.

I couldn’t help – just as if she’d asked me to arrange for the birds in the aviary to come close to her daughter, or for the gorilla to play with the child.

 

A couple years ago Jesse left our home to go renting with a friend, and Tiarna flew to Ireland to meet up with a childhood friend from Memphis (not the gorilla!). I think a piece of my heart went with each of them.

As I sit today and write, I think back to that mother in the Butterfly House, and I recognise that I have plenty of what she had.

I would much prefer to be with my kids wherever they are; making sure that they have everything that they have ever desired; that they can be happy; making  the world safe and perfect for them; and wanting to take their place in scary times (bungee jumping and sky-diving not included!).

Then I remember back to our first tour in the Butterfly House.

When one of the other mums reached out to help a butterfly out of its cocoon, the tour-guide stopped her. The tour-guide stressed that in order to develop their wings properly the butterflies had to go through the struggle of coming out all by themselves.

As parents, it’s always tempting to protect our children from any struggles and to try to keep them happy. But we run the risk of growing beautiful children who can’t cope in the real world.
We can encourage them to learn, and we can influence their environment so that they can make wise choices.
But we cannot live their lives for them.

If we keep them so safe that they cannot learn consequences, or prevent them from experiencing that struggles are a necessary part of life we run the risk of them becoming dependent on us or others approval…always.

If we protect them from taking responsibility for their part in accidents, we don’t allow them to learn about cause and effect.

We can get in the way of their learning while they are young by not allowing them the freedom to explore within safe boundaries.

If we take it upon ourselves to be the provider of all happiness, we can prevent them from discovering that happiness is something they can experience from within themselves.

Our job is to prepare them for life; to let them know that they are always loved and to allow them to grow.

Our children need room to learn, to struggle, to laugh, to cry, and to stretch in order to develop their own wings.

And when they are ready, only by letting go of them can we watch them take off and fly.

 

Originally published as ‘Learning to fly’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2013, September edition.                                                  www.thelutheran.com.au