Think Like a Boat Mom: Boundaries

Updated: August 7, 2017

This weekend, Molly and I visited the Seattle Boat Show. Boat Dad Trevor was there both weekends with his sponsor, Centurion, which translates to, “Trevor is loving life, sitting in boats with friends who love boats, sharing all he knows and loves about boats with other boat lovers.” πŸ˜‰ He is admirable in his pursuit to live his passions, and I appreciate him modeling that for our baby girl! Not only did Molly get to see her daddy in his element, I saw some impressive parenting today that I can’t wait to share with you.

In this post, I share:

  • How we decide on our boundaries
  • Why consistency matters
  • Choosing words carefully for encouraging direction-following
  • Tricks from the classroom for setting up kids for success
  • Our boating rules for Molly + Pin-able infographic


2017 Seattle Boat Show

My Pool Mom radar went off when I noticed moms corral their water babies crawling around the boats: reinforce boating rules even though the boats aren’t in the water. Smart! {I need an emoji here! Something that speaks happily of shock, awe, and lightbulb brilliance!} Aside from life jacket-wearing (no one took it this far), the rules remained:

  • Stay off the sides of the boat.
  • Sit on the seats; feet stay on the floor.
  • Only grown ups touch the dashboard.

Choosing Our Boundaries
We choose our boundaries by thinking about how we use our boat and reasonable accidents that might result from ordinary usage; then we think of prevention measures.

Trevor enforced our boat rules with Molly when he made her sit on the seat instead of letting her toddle across the back of the boat. Admittedly, I let her toddle across the back of the boat. {Another emoji, please. Maybe a palm to face. I’m such a newb.} Trevor grew up around boats and this kind of thinking is engrained in him as much as it is for me with pool rules. I just wasn’t thinking like a Boat Mom! So let me try it: next year, I think I’ll bring Molly’s life jacket with us because one of our rules is “always wear a life jacket on the dock and boat.”

Why do we have this rule? You might be surprised that it’s not because of the law. If Molly fell in, we wouldn’t be able to find her if we jumped in after her; our lakes are too dark to see more than 4 feet.

Washington law states, “Children 12 years old and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless they are in a fully enclosed area.” Our boats are longer than 19 feet, and we choose to have Molly wear a life jacket because she cannot swim yet.

Choose clear boundaries, too. Older children are more likely to take rules seriously when they make logical sense. Putting on a life jacket before you get on the dock, wearing a helmet when you ride (see the ambiguity there? With “ride,” I covered bikes, horses, roller skates, skateboards, and snow sports in one fell swoop!), looking both ways when we cross the street, and always wearing a seat belt in the car… if a kid asks ‘why?’, it’s easy to explain.

Consistency Matters
Enforcing a boundary enforces the expectation; eventually, Molly will have such strong associations that she makes safe choices most of the time. (Anyone else feel weird riding in a car without a seat belt? I can’t do it for more than 20 seconds!)

Consistency – even at the boat show – is important for small children. The brains of babies and toddlers are driven by emotions and impulses. They haven’t matured enough to understand logic, for example, exceptions to a boat rule because we’re on dry land.

When it comes to water safety, it’s vital to be as clear and consistent as possible. At the boat show, I reminded myself of our family’s boat rules and asked myself, “Would I want Molly to ever think she can get on a boat without her life jacket?” My answer is NO, not in the foreseeable future. It would be unfair and confusing to her current developmental stage to change the rules temporarily. And so, this is how I came to think we should bring her life jacket to the boat show next year.

Choose Words Wisely & Other Teacher Tricks
When deciding on your rules, choose your words carefully. Think of what you would say to reinforce it in the positive form. For example, instead of “don’t run,” say, “walk.” Our brains think about the last thing heard, so when we tell a child, “don’t run,” we actually set them up to think about running. 

Avoid negative words such as β€˜can’t’, β€˜shouldn’t’, β€˜need’, and β€˜won’t.’ (Notice how I said ‘avoid’ instead of ‘don’t use’? Is it working? πŸ˜‰) When I taught in the classroom, one of our rules each year was, “Walk everywhere you go.” That phrase lived in my back pocket because I could apply it to many contexts. I’ve learned that most rules that make sense should be easy to say and broadly applicable.

Let me share another teacher trick. When kids have remembered and acted upon a rule without needing to be told, you can thank them for (insert rule here.) For example, “Thank you for walking everywhere you go.” This is a classic move to positively reinforce an expectation AND build relationships with kids. Beginning when they’re little helps them learn that following directions feels good!

Choose your words wisely, and set kids up to think about what you want them to do. 

Wearing a life jacket on a boat is just one of our expectations for Molly; it’s important we honor our boundaries during this early stage of Molly’s life when logic is still developing. Throughout childhood, rules serve as a framework. A strong developmentally-appropriate structure provides children with the sense of safety they crave. The ‘space’ within a clear framework provides kids with a sense freedom, meeting their need for independence.

It’s with these thoughts in mind and Trevor’s boating expertise that we conjured this list of boating rules for our toddler.

  1. Always wear your life jacket
  2. Sit if the boat is moving
  3. Walk everywhere
  4. Only grown ups touch the dashboard
  5. Ask permission to jump in the water (every time!)

How this actually executes depends on a lot: mainly, Molly’s mood and determination. πŸ˜‰ Sometimes, for instance, sitting is out of the question, in which case we corner her and hold on to her life jacket. Flexibility makes my job as a parent a tad less stressful! 

    Pin my infographic to remember these boundaries the next time you hit the water!
    Click to view an enlarged version… sorry, only the pic below is Pin-able.

    Pool Mom's Boat Rules

    Even off the water, boating rules exist. I’m curious what the mamas of toddlers and older kids think about this! I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. πŸ™‚

    The Seattle Boat Show runs the weekends of January 27th – February 4th at CenturyLink Field Event Center. Swing by the Centurion Boats corner (West 67) to say hi to Trevor and see some gorgeous surf boats up close and personal. You might bump into Molly and me snuggled up in the cushy seats!


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