Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Boundaries and Electric Fences

 Our garden sits right next to many acres of farmland, and is divided from that by a fence. Last year we planted a hedge against the fence - hawthorn, blackthorn, holly and so on - to act as a habitat for wildlife. Until recently the other side of the fence has been the home to potatoes, oil seed rape and cereal, but a few weeks ago things changed - we now have thirteen Hereford bullocks as neighbours. They look great, and we enjoy watching them. They, in their turn, enjoy our hedge. It had grown to about three feet high before they arrived but very quickly went down to half that.

I took action. First I shouted at them. They shifted from foot to foot a little and regarded me with keen interest, but nothing much else happened. I went into the field and waved my arms about. They moved, but only towards a different part of the hedge. I tried shouting. Nothing. I think one of them may have huffed a bit. Ultimately we took advice and bought an electric fence.

The Herefords learnt about it incredibly quickly. One by one they approached it, ignored it, went for the hedge, got a shock and quickly jumped back. I don't like causing animals pain of any sort - I've been a vegetarian for the best part of fourty years - but it really does seem that with a minimum amount of discomfort they've learnt that our hedge is off limits. This got me thinking about boundaries and bringing up children.

If we want out children to behave appropriately then we have to help them to do that. The Free Child of TA theory is no respecter of other people's feelings or property, and that child has to learn - has to become "adapted" to some extent - if it's to fit into our society. We help them to make this transition by getting them to understand what's acceptable and what's not. We set boundaries and try to get them to observe them. "If you do that again", we say, "then you won't be going to Zoe's party this afternoon". If the child does that - again - and we don't take them to the party then they learn something about consequences. If we do take them to the party then they learn something quite different - that our threats are hollow, and can be safely ignored. They push the boundaries, we shout and wave our arms about, but no learning takes place. A vicious circle starts to develop whereby child care becomes more and more of a challenge.

I'm not advocating the use of electric fences as a means of child control, but there is a parallel here. With firm boundaries everyone knows where they are. With no boundaries we're all in trouble. Us because our children become more and more demanding, them because they're not learning to fit into society. Our Herefords have settled into an easy relationship with the boundary we've given them. They know where it is and respect it. I've not see one of them stung by the fence since the day we installed it, and they haven't seen me waving my arms about and shouting. Life in our part of rural Herefordshire is calm again.

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