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Holding Healthy Boundaries When the Upsets Are Big

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

We had one of the hardest moments in our relationship the other night. Lately I’ve come to realize that even clearer boundaries need to be offered to my toddler. While I’m great at meeting her emotions, and staying present with the big feels, inside of that I’m recognizing the need to make sure she’s feeling an even more stable container. I’m bringing in even more of my divine father to my parenting. Qualities of agendaless presence, stability, and clear consistent reliable boundaries.

What this looks like is maintaining a clearer, unmovable boundary, while still maintaining qualities of all embracing love (divine mother).

In practice here’s what the scenario was:

We’d finished dinner, cleaned up, and it was time to head upstairs for a bath and books before bed. We do this every night. As we headed towards the stairs, Anaiya collapsed on the floor crying and refused to walk up the stairs. Many times I’ve come back down and scooped her up. And on this night I could feel how doing this was not actually supporting her anymore. What she needed was my presence, emotional attunement and encouragement that she could make it up the stairs.

Why was it different this night? On an intuitive level, I’m beginning to notice where she’s using big cries to try to get what she needs. Are the big cries ok for her to have? Absolutely. Is it ok for her to resort to that to try to get her needs met? It’s not, anymore. She now has the ability to ask in her clear Anaiya voice for what she needs.

"Giving in in moments like this is a disservice to her. What she’s really asking is can you hold the loving container no matter what."

Her needs are almost always responded to, so she has deep imprinting in her system that her needs will be met. So now, she’s testing the limits with her big emotions. She wonders -"If I get bigger with my upset, will you give in?" Giving in in moments like this is a disservice to her. What she’s really asking is can you hold the loving container no matter what. Because she’s a young human and doesn’t know how to hold the container for herself. That’s not her role at this point in her life.

What I’m needing to continue honing in on is not giving in to the big emotions. To stay with her in unconditional love and presence, while holding the clear boundary that she can’t have what she wants if she’s screaming for it.

So as she flailed at the bottom of the stairs, I stayed right with her. Repeatedly narrating her experience and that she would need to ask me in her clear “Anaiya” voice (I don’t like the old paradigm way of calling it a “big girl voice”, so I just say her “Anaiya” voice).

I acknowledged how upset she was, I encouraged her to ask me in a different way, and that I believed in her that she could make it up the stairs. But I did not bend in my boundary.

I didn’t go away with my presence or connection, I sat with her in all the big emotions pouring out.

And as she felt me staying, the emotions got bigger. She got angry and began digging her hands into the nearby plant and throwing dirt everywhere. I reminded her it’s not ok to harm plants and if she didn’t stop I’d need to move her away from the plant. She actually heard this and redirected her anger into just yelling.

And I stayed. I didn’t come down the stairs and pick her up. She got to feel all she needed to, which was also likely a backlog of feelings needing to purge. “I’m right here Anaiya, I hear how upset you are and I know you can make it up the stairs to me.” I repeated this again and again.

And she slowly, with many failed attempts, made her way to me, collapsing into my arms and crying more. I held her at the stop of the stairs, feeling the impact in my own nervous system of how much this was for her. And as I held her, I also knew on a deep level she knew how held she was by me. That I was imprinting on a deeper level, I’ve got her no matter what and she can rely on this stable container.

So often as parents we can appease the big feels. We don’t want our children to feel disappointment or we don’t want to have to hear and feel the big upset, so we concede to them. But this is a disservice. What our children need is to feel our love and presence remains no matter what they’re feeling. That there’s room for all their feelings and we won’t go away. That we are offering such a reliable container that all of them feels welcome.

The story continues. When she made it up the stairs to me and I held her and she began to settle, I told her we needed to clean up the dirt that she’d thrown everywhere. She told me she didn’t want to and I said we could do it together but that I wouldn’t do it for her. And that’s what we did. Her hand on top of mine as we used the dust buster to clean it up. Pausing each time she took her hand away, reminding her we needed to clean up, together. I could feel how much of a stretch that felt for her. But not too much of a stretch. If I’d forced her to clean it up alone I believe that would’ve been too much in that moment. And if I’d done it for her, that also would’ve not been the right attunement.

Needless to say, this greatly delayed night time routines but this is what mattered.

As we snuggled in bed together later, she acknowledged her regret of hurting the plant. She wondered how the plant was, and if it was going to get sick. I reassured her it wasn’t going to get sick but it might feel hurt and we could check in the morning. As she’d come back into regulation and felt our connection, she could reflect on her choices. Her inherent care came back online.

"As she’d come back into regulation and felt our connection, she could reflect on her choices. Her inherent care came back online."

The next morning as we passed the plant we stopped to repair with it. She asked it how was feeling and in my best “plant” voice, I responded that I was feeling sad about my dirt being thrown around. Anaiya heard the plant and acknowledged what she did. She asked the plant if it was ok. And then she said “let’s give it some water to help it feel better”. The plant responded “Oh thank you that would feel so good.” So Naiy got my water bottle and began to pour water into the soil. “Ooo, ahhh, this feels so good” the plant responded. Anaiya smiled as she cared for the plant - knowing she’s made a mistake and could take responsibility and repair with the plant.

I’m not sure it would’ve worked the night before. Often repair is about circling back around when everyone is more regulated. Which is a practice I do my best to do with her. I acknowledge when I’ve yelled at her in ways that didn’t feel good. I acknowledge mistakes I be made. So she knows that mama, too, is a fallible human being who makes mistakes and is here for the repair. As I’ve modeled this with her, I was delighted to see how she wanted to do this with the plant.

Misattunement happens, mistakes happen, life happens. But when we acknowledge this with our children it allows the opportunity for us to come back into connection and congruent relationship with one another. I’m not interested in a family culture of denial. I’ve worked hard in my adult life to come into congruence with energy, emotions, words and actions. And I want my daughter to grow up inside of this coherence.

I also believe this deepens my connection and relationship with her as she knows love is steadfast even inside of mistakes. And that goes both ways. Witnessing her care for the plant the next day tells me she’s embodying this understanding and my heart sings in seeing this in her.

Big love and delight,


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