One of the most common questions that comes up on the courses and at the support group is about Boundaries. When do I need to put boundaries in, is my baby being naughty by doing things I don’t want them to, how do I know if the boundary I have imposed is right?
I struggled with the balance. In the first instance I found everything relatively simple, I loved to hold and care for my newborn baby, I responded to every murmur and kept him close. He grew and I wondered, was it OK to pick him up every time he cried, was it OK to feed him when he was hungry and offer my breast as comfort, how much should I feed him, should I leave him to cry?
I have often reflected on this time, I realise now that I reacted to my early life, where my Mum, an advocate of Dr Spock left me to cry, sometimes for hours. If I had my time again, I would learn how to listen to my baby’s cries to see if he needed help or if he was finding his own way. I had absolutely no tolerance to the sound of his crying and was unable to listen long enough to find out if it was an, I am distressed cry or I’m finding my own way cry! It was me who needed the boundary, one around my emotional reaction and presumption that a baby crying needs help, I am sure that I sometimes disturbed him.
As he grew and began to move I made the space we lived in as safe as possible, he learnt to crawl very early, backwards first, which frustrated him no end and then forwards. Now I needed to make sure that other babies around him were safe, showing him how to touch them gently and respect their eyes, hair, mouth and nose as his wish to explore this fascinating person overtook him. The boundaries we need to impose at this stage are for protection. It isn’t possible to spoil a baby and they don’t have the capacity to be bad.
It’s a good idea to think about your home and the social settings you will find yourself in as you decide what your boundaries are. It is fine to impose a boundary if your baby picks up or pushes an object that makes a noise that disturbs you, rather than say no, offer an alternative. I was asked the other day if it was OK for a 10 month old to sit on the table whilst others are eating. It bothered the father who thought his son was being bad and did not disturb the mother. Upon reflection I suspect it is a good place to impose a boundary, as a baby who grows into a toddler will not be a welcome addition to every table and could cause confusion for the baby when he goes to others homes and restaurants when it may not be appropriate or possible for him to sit on the table. However a compromise could be to get a seat that brings the baby right up to the table to allow as much interaction with the things on the table and the people around as possible. This young baby seems to want to be right in the thick of things, it often helps to offer a picnic meal on the floor.
It is very hard for a baby, toddler or infant to sit still for long, their bodies become uncomfortable when the energy that builds is unable to be discharged, distraction works wonders but a boundary imposed to keep them still without entertainment is unrealistic.
We live in an unnatural world, particularly in London and some boundaries will need to be imposed which otherwise might not. My experience is, that not all babies know how many biscuits are good for them; we need to exercise our commonsense and offer them other food after one or two. On the other hand it helps to trust they will eat the right amount of healthy food to suit their appetite of the day.
The idea of a boundary is to create a feeling of safety in your baby, they know that they are contained and can get on with the work of a baby, to play, imitate and learn. How you and your baby feel will be the best indication of whether you have the boundaries right for you; too loose or too tight tends to cause difficulty, about right, harmony. The Japanese traditionally allow their children freedom to play and explore without boundaries in a safe environment until they are four or five. I liken it to the experience of being a King or Queen. The children are then gently initiated into the ways of society and expectations grow that they will behave in a way that is beneficial to the whole. The feeling of being King or Queen slowly dissipates as they watch another baby’s needs being met.
If you are struggling and live in London come to the support group on a Friday, 10.30 until 12 at Viveka or come on a course. Boundaries are always included and the role plays that arise from situations that participants describe and explore are often the highlight of the day. It’s an experimental dance