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Consistency, boundaries key to healthy child development

Published: Saturday, Aug. 10 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

Gabe Hyde, left, Dax, Will, and Davis brush their teeth before bed with their mother Camilla and 1-year-old Hazel in Syracuse on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SYRACUSE — It's bedtime, and there's not much fuss as seven little Hydes trot off to their rooms. Trenton and Camilla Hyde tamed what had been a cranky, crazy winding-down by creating a paper schedule outlining the most important things that need done each day. It concludes with a simple declaration: "9 p.m. Bedtime."

In their rooms, the older kids — Dax, 12, Laryn, 10, and Davis, 8 — can read or do something quiet for a few minutes before they nod off. For Gabriel, 5, William, 2, and year-old twins Hazel and Hattie, it's a back rub, a song and "nighty-night."

The Hydes know routine is important, consistency tames chaos and setting boundaries begets strong relationships and good behavior.

"I think routine is very important to kids," said Camilla Hyde. "I think the most important thing is that we're all working together with a happy attitude because we are grateful for our home, our things, that mommy doesn't have to do it all by herself, we are a team." The kids, she said, "feel better knowing what they are supposed to be doing and what's expected of them. We get better behavior and they don't fight us on the schedule."

Boundaries, consistency, compassion and respect are the basics of good parenting, said Judi Lirman, a family and child therapist in Tarzana, Calif. "The parents or caregivers provide security, guidance and love in a frightening and chaotic world. … So many adults feel guilty about setting boundaries and being consistent. In truth, as long as they set these with logic and love, they are two of the most valuable gifts adults can give children."

One great boundary is simply to be clear that you're the parents, said Jerry Cook, associate professor of family and consumer sciences at California State University. "A lot of times we tell our children it's time for bed or they need to do a chore or whatever and they don't want to and we keep arguing with them. … Once you make a decision, that decision needs to mean something. Once you set clear boundaries — 'Here are the consequences' — the best thing is to walk away and distance yourself a little from whatever the child decides to do."

Too many parents, he said, tie their own identities up in what the child does and how obedient or accomplished she is. It's a mistake. Children need to learn to make the best choices they can and to live with the aftermath of those choices, he said.

Living with rules

A family's values drive their boundaries and in what ways they are consistent. The Hydes are most consistent, said Camilla Hyde, about their morals — "everything from not lying or talking dirty to being nice. Sometimes we don't get the homework done and we don't eat at 6 o'clock, but we are consistent with character."

They are also consistent with chores. They believe in hard work, so playtime is deferred until chores are done and each child has asked if there's another way he or she can help. Even Gabriel, at 5, regularly unloads the dishwasher and cleans his room.

"We are trying to keep them on a schedule, keep them grounded, with good morals," said Trenton Hyde. "We find if the kids are not on a schedule, they run five or 10 different directions all the time."

He and his wife are also united on what they believe is important, he said.

Cook and other experts say consistency is essential for a child's healthy development. One of the first things a child tries to establish is who can be trusted. "If there's not consistency in regards to decisions, children learn they can't trust their parents," Cook said. That includes seemingly innocuous failures like saying you'll play in a minute and not doing it or threatening consequences that never materialize. It undermines trust.

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