I was talking with a friend the other day who had just had her first child. “She needs so much from me,” she said with that first-time mom weariness in her voice. “I’m afraid I’ll never be able to give her what she needs.”
I remember being in her shoes and feeling exactly the same way when my oldest was born. My very wise mother had patted my back and said, “Honey, she only really needs s few things from you other than food and shelter.” Looking back now, I know she was right. Boundaries, consistency, and love are the main staples of child-rearing and when those are in place, everything else can function properly.
When you take care of those big things, the smaller things tend to fall into place…
What Your Child Needs Most From You
Your Child Needs Boundaries
Some parents think that “boundary” is a dirty word. Why stifle a child’s growth and inquisitiveness, they argue? Why put limits on what a child can and cannot do? Simply put, boundaries help create children who can successfully navigate the world. They teach cause and effect and, more importantly, they keep children safe.
As a parent, boundaries help establish the rules of your house and protect the family unit. They give the clear message that this family, this life, is bigger than just the individual. Boundaries teach children that there is a safe way and an unsafe way to interact with others and their community. Imagine never teaching a child not to touch a hot stove, run into the street, or that bullying is bad for fear of “stifling their creativity”. Boundaries that are established for safety and character growth are non-negotiable. Never apologize or hesitate to set them when your child’s well-being and development are at stake.
(We talk about how we set boundaries in our blended family here.)
Your Child Needs Consistency
Consistency is defined as “firmness of constitution or character” and in parenting, that means that what you say you’re going to do, you do. There is no guesswork about what is expected and no wavering on important decisions. For children, this consistency means stability. They understand that, although they may not always make the right choices, there is consistency of love, support, and redirection. Consistency is comforting.
For two-parent families, consistency between parents is even more important. Children need to have the same set of rules no matter who is watching them. From screen-time rules to homework completion guidelines, the consistency of routines and requirements should be the same. When there is none, children learn to manipulate the situation and develop poor relationship habits. Instead of learning consequences and conflict-resolution, they learn how to navigate the inconsistencies to their advantage.
For children with siblings, it means teaching kids to respect each other, even when they disagree.
Your Child Needs Love
All of the boundaries and consistency in the world can be set, but if they are not established with love they will have little positive impact. Above all else, your child needs love. They ache for the kind of love that promises safety, security, and permanence. As a parent, you have the overwhelming responsibility to nurture and love them more than any other person in their lives. You may not always agree with their decisions, but no matter how old your child gets, the knowledge that they are loved will help sustain them. Love them freely, deeply, and with great abandon. Shower them with hugs and kisses. Tell them they are loved. Model for them what a healthy, caring relationship looks like. And, more than anything, never stop loving them.
Parenting is tough and, when navigating the ins and outs and ups and downs of child-rearing, there are a lot of opportunities for missteps. But you can raise a positive, strong, capable child if you set boundaries, stay consistent, and show them how much they’re loved, the odds of your child growing into the person she is meant to be are infinitely higher. Love them with all your heart.