Boundaries and Decisions
Helping to make good decisions for themselves begins with teaching children boundaries. In the domestic church this can be achieved by identifying non-negotiables.
Entitled, “My Parents Should Let Me Get Guinea Pigs,” one of our daughters handed us a paper she wrote. She proceeded to give three reasons why: first, she had enough money to buy a pair; second, she has proven herself responsible as she had pet hamsters when she was younger; third, she spent a year exploring the types of guinea pigs, the characteristics of each type, and the necessary daily care regimen for the type she wanted to get. She wrote this paper because we asked her to write one before we would consider the idea of guinea pigs as pets for her.
Many decisions we make are driven by emotion, desire or passion which may blind us to the responsibilities or consequences that those decisions bring to our lives. Some of these choices may be trivial and may have small effects in our lives. Some of these decisions, however, may be grave and may impact our lives and our family in a big and lasting way.
Big or small, taking the time to consider decisions to be made is part of being a responsible person. Teaching our children responsibility includes teaching them the process of making decisions. Having clear boundaries steer us and our children to make good decisions even before engaging in a process.
Clear boundaries for choices and behavior act like fences that keep decision-making focused on what is moral, safe and responsible while keeping out those that are immoral, dangerous and irresponsible. There are three boundaries that we have taught our children when they were young, which we called non-negotiables. This means that no negotiation or compromise or discussion was allowed in these areas. They represented the basic boundaries within which their choices were to be made. “Think before you make a choice and use these guidelines:”
1. If the choice is between right or wrong (morally): Choose to do the right thing.
2. If the choice is safe or unsafe (physically): You must act only if it is safe and will not endanger or harm yourself or others.
3. Chores: You must always do your chores.
Giving children firm boundaries help them to practice self-discipline because boundaries provide clear guidelines for choices by which they can abide. Within the boundaries, most everything can be negotiable with other factors considered. That means choices can be open to discussion, compromise, flexibility and personal preferences.
There are few exceptions to the non-negotiables – like not being able to do chores when they are sick. As they get older, fine-tuning of the decision-making process develops as their understanding, maturity and ability to direct themselves grow. They also learn the rare exceptions to the non-negotiables, which must always be based on love. For the most part, the non-negotiables remain.
Clear boundaries not only act as guidelines to the decision-making of our children, but they also provide them with a sense of security, responsibility and the practice of virtue. Virtues are good habits of doing what is right and loving. Making decisions for good and love becomes easier for our children as the habit to choose them is continually supported and practiced.
Enjoying the fruit of well-thought out decisions and choosing virtue foster within them a confidence in their ability to make good decisions. Our daughter is in the third year of daily caring for her guinea pig pets and they give her much joy. Although she does all the care and maintenance for them, they have become pets for the whole family.