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Children Need Boundaries, Says Counselor/author


for the Mail Tribune

Too many parents are abdicating their roles as moms and dads, resulting in child-led families in which kids end up disoriented, overwhelmed and wanting to grab control, says an international author, counselor and educator who’s coming to Ashland Sunday.

Kim John Payne, author of “Simplicity Parenting,” will talk on “Choices for Children: How Many and How Soon?” from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20, at the Siskiyou School in Ashland.

“I will build the case that choices for children have gone too far and that giving children choices that are more appropriate for teens leads them to feeling insecure, unsafe and overentitled,” says Payne, of Northampton, Mass., who leads trainings for teachers and parents in the U.S. and overseas.

Many permissive parents come from overly-strict families, he says. They want their kids to learn free will by giving them choices, but many of those choices are best left for older years, he says.

Good parenting must be grounded with the mantra of “warm, firm and calm governance” and by limiting choices, especially in the first six to eight years, he says.

“A child needs to know who is governing the family,” he says. “It’s very securing and helps them orient — and orienting is a word I use a lot. Many of today’s children seem to lack in orientation because their parents have abdicated the responsibility of parenting, so you see child-led families which have a very significant discipline problem.”

Payne emphasizes that he’s not a “helicopter parent” and that “we don’t want children to be sheep. They’re not sheep, but, as young children, they are lambs.

“I am a big advocate of choices — and more as children get older. Around 12 to 14 is when we really start to open it up, but not when they are little.”

Parents may believe offering children choices when they’re young will make them strong and able to handle freedom. But Payne finds it makes children less empathetic and turns them into competitors with their parents. They also want to subjugate peers and siblings, so they tend to have few or no friends and low self-esteem.

“Giving appropriate boundaries has nothing to do with control (of kids). Many liberal-minded parents swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and do overly formless parenting,” he says.

“The advice I give parents, in my 30 years of counseling them, is for warm, firm and calm governance. I’ve never met a disobedient child, only a disoriented one. What limiting choices does is not to make them weak, but rather to make them strong. It helps them to know where they stand.”

Payne says his experience comes from being raised in a functioning family of “good, healthy, well-balanced men and being given choices when I had gained the ability to make those choices — and having no doubt about who was in charge.”

“I wasn’t too strictly parented, either,” he says. “They were caring, loving guys, very straight men who knew what they were doing.”

Parents should “absolutely not spank and there is no need if it’s a centered, adult-led family,” he says. “The situation doesn’t arise. There is no need to spank to orient children.”

In liberal communities such as Ashland and Northampton, he says, “Parents do it out of kindness and consideration. No parent wakes up and says, How can I damage my child’s self-esteem today?’

“Parents want their children to be able to change the world, right its wrongs and be socially conscious, but it’s about getting the timing right instead of overwhelming them with adult information, such as global warming, and try to pack it all in the first five years,” he says.

“Under this approach, by the time they reach 16, they don’t want to hear about climate change anymore; they want to get to Prada and buy shoes. If you delay these conversations, you have better global citizens.”

Tickets to Payne’s workshop are $40 or $60 per parenting couple. Child care is $20. Tickets and more information are available by visiting

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.

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