Sunday, 30 April 2017

Setting and pushing boundaries.

This is the extended* Wellbeing Column, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, April 25th, 2017.

It has been like the BBC TV programme, ‘Springwatch' in our back garden recently. As well as a tuneful variety of bird life, the bird feeders and garden have encouraged other visitors too. Squirrels, rabbits, deer, a stoat, pheasants, hedgehogs, bees, butterflies and even a pair of ducks have appeared near the house for the first time.

One morning we looked out of the window and were shocked. There was a scene of wanton vandalism. Hanging feeders lay on the ground, broken and empty. A baton of wood was snapped in two. Due to the height of the feeders, we blamed deer, but out of curiosity, we erected a night time camera.

The next morning, a similar scene met us. We looked at the camera and were amazed. A badger was the culprit. We know how fortunate we are to have such a wonderful selection of wildlife on our doorstep and we encourage it, despite the downside of nibbled flowers and shrubs. But it is wild life. Life that knows few boundaries.

Recently I heard a retired headteacher talk to a group of NSPCC supporters, about her years in charge of a primary school, in a tough area. She talked of children growing up ‘wild’ and how much they responded to the boundaries set at school. “They knew where they were and what was expected of them.” People need boundaries. When we’re younger, we have to be told and guided, learning about taking personal responsibility and that actions bring consequences. We push at them, question them, sometimes break through them, but need them for a healthy society. As we grow up and our brains mature, we can set boundaries for ourselves.

* Taken from the book, 'Are you Chasing Rainbows?' 

Peter, in his fifties, was an only child and close to his mother, who idolised him. He held a prestigious academic position in a university. He regularly had tantrums in the workplace, generally shouting, screaming, banging the table and walking out of meetings. Most of the time he succeeded in getting his own way.
I would suggest that while he had a high IQ, his EQ (emotional intelligence) did not match: he presented as a man/boy. He had grown up getting his own way by having tantrums, and was indulged by staff members. Unless someone was able to draw boundaries and be consistent in their non- acceptance of his behaviour, it was likely to continue. 

If animals, both domestic and wild, are kept inside boundaries and those boundaries are too restrictive, they will not thrive and usually display disturbed behaviour. The same can be observed with children. It’s not easy for parents and carers, especially with teenagers. Boundaries which are too restrictive can lead to as many problems as too few boundaries. 

*There is general acceptance now that praise and encouragement are helpful, and that filling a child with a sense of failure is unhelpful. The problem is that teaching is tipping the balance into giving a child unrealistic expectations. We praise a baby when it picks up a toy, but when do we stop? If we continue to praise a child for doing something that comes easily, the praise will be devalued. As adults, we need to move the boundaries of praise, along with the expectation of success. For example, a young child can be praised for a drawing: if that drawing doesn’t get much better and the praise continues, the child will know that the praise is empty. Either that or they will not try to stretch themselves because they will be praised anyway. What I suggest is that the effort should be praised instead.
Sometimes, as adults we set ourselves inflexible and unnecessary boundaries - a comfort zone. Perhaps 2017 is the year to step outside and explore the unknown?

* There are many reasons for preferring to stay within our comfort zone, but a major reason for may people, especially as they grow older, is not to wanting to fail. An adult can often be reminded of uncomfortable, even horrible, childhood experiences. The childhood emotion can 'hijack' the adult thinking and they stay in their comfort zone. That can be a shame and a loss of personal development.

"Failure is success, if we learn from it." Malcolm Forbes.