As children mature, they want to exercise control over their time, property, and bodies. This quest for control can become inefficient and outright messy! It takes time and effort to negotiate with those we care about. Messy is part of getting to independence and self-confidence.
Control may include youth being reluctant to engage in social and physical contact that was typical for their younger years. This need to exert control and to uphold their boundaries can be seen with changes in youth’s willingness to accept hugs from Aunt Phyllis. To rough house with older male relatives. To allow free access to their room and belongings.
These changes are typical for healthy adolescent development.
Honoring these boundaries, while legitimately ensuring health and safety, can reinforce a developing child’s ability to express their wants and needs. Having their boundaries respected at home helps children learn how to protect themselves. Having their voices heard and listened to helps children learn how to advocate for themselves elsewhere.
A caregiver has to use discretion, clear expectations, and tap into their knowledge of the child’s current interests and activities to find a balance point between respecting boundaries and mitigating health and safety risks.
By safely hearing children’s voice and giving choice at home, caregivers develop a child’s ability to say “no” to unwanted attention. A strong voice comes from confidence that their preferences matter and should be listened to–inside and outside of the home.
While even the most sensitive caregiving cannot guarantee no harm will every happen, conscious parenting helps to build skills that will serve growing children as they launch into the world.
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