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Baby Gate Boundaries

Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.

5 Minute Read 

We are continuing to work our way through One Trusted Adult's four-part framework for Sustainable Safeguarding and Better Boundaries. Discussing boundaries in each of these categories allows us to show up as the healthiest and safest trusted adults for other peoples’ children, and keeps us alert and attuned to boundaries we should expect in the relationships our own children have with adults outside the home. 


Brick Wall Boundaries prevent illegal acts, violations, and termination-warranted and trauma-inducing offenses. 


Chain-Link Boundaries are an added layer of responsibility and obligation for adults in professional and formal volunteer roles with young people. 


Baby Gate Boundaries are the contextual agreements that rely on setting, culture, space, and time, and can be adjusted as relationships change. 


Invisible Fence Boundaries are not always seen or spoken, but they are silently agreed-upon norms that impact how we behave and relate in a group setting. 

Today we discuss Baby Gate Boundaries, and this is where interpersonal trust lives! This type of boundary setting actually shows up in all relationships— spousal, friendship, parenting, mentoring, sibling to sibling, etc. When a baby learns to crawl, we put up a gate so they don’t fall down the stairs, and when they continue to grow and develop and can handle the stairs, we move the gate.


These are the kind of boundaries that adjust as we trust


Baby Gate Boundaries require emotional intelligence (self-awareness, social awareness, and self-management) to navigate, and are the type of "feeling boundaries" most likely to create blurry areas in relationships. If we circle back to our definition of boundaries and frame discussions around them as a declaration of expectations and an agreed-upon way to live and work together, they become clearer and easier to talk about.


Brené Brown, author, researcher, and storyteller, says that the most compassionate people she has interviewed are also the most boundaried. But she also says we are bad at boundaries because they are hard! We are not comfortable stating what is okay and what is not okay, but that is exactly where we must begin if safety and sustainability are the aim. Her question is B.I.G— What Boundaries need to be in place for me to live in my Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about you? Setting appropriate boundaries, she believes (and we at One Trusted Adult agree), ends up being an inherently selfish act because the life you change first is your own. You protect yourself, make it easier for others to understand your wants and needs, and make your actions and commitments sustainable for the long haul!


One way to healthily adjust your Baby Gate Boundaries is to get your emotional tank in check. How, and where, you fill up plays a big role in how you are able to show up. In what ways do you recharge and reset?


Through interviews of youth-serving professionals, we have found that those who are fueled by the admiration of young people (being liked and loved rather than respected) are far more susceptible to boundary blur than those who name sources of strength and affirmation from their personal lives.


In other words, when we seek to gain, heal, or be affirmed by and through our interactions with young people, we have lost our way. From here it is easy to slip into unhealthy power dynamics, inappropriate relationships, oversharing, or savior syndrome. 


We each play a role in young people’s development. Sometimes we provide direct support, sometimes we draw the hard line and teach the tough lesson, and sometimes we are a quiet, available touchstone.


We should never be the savior. If we are seeking to be a savior, we are most likely trying to fill our own bucket rather than working to fill the bucket of a young person. We humans carry the impact of our life’s triumphs and our tragedies wherever we go, but to maintain appropriate Baby Gate Boundaries we must ask ourselves: Is what I am sharing or what I am doing for me, or is it for the young person in front of me? Keep seeking to fill up on energy and goodness outside of youth-serving spaces so that when you enter you pour all of that energy and goodness into the young people in your care.  

Brooklyn's "One Trusted Adult" Tips:


For Parents and Guardians— Talk to your children about the important differences between like, respect, and trust. They can and should like their teachers, camp counselors, etc., but not without respecting their role as adults in their lives. And, hopefully, the like and respect equate to trust, though not always. Dig in on this conversation and look to learn from your child how they see and define these qualities and where they show up in their relationships.


For Educators and Youth-Serving Professionals— We certainly all have a need to feel needed and recognized, but to do youth work in a healthy and sustainable way that recognition must come from the letter we get from our students 10 to 20 years from now and not from their admiration today. One tip for maintaining this Baby Gate Boundary is to seek the compliment of a colleague not the compliment of a young person. This means, however, you should also be a colleague who gives compliments! Find three colleague moments to celebrate in the next week, and call them out!


Brooklyn is the Founder and Lead Trainer of One Trusted Adult, an organization that provides programming for educators, parents and young people, to ensure that every young person has at least one trusted adult.


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