Teach children healthy boundaries is a skill that will serve them well their whole lives. Healthy boundaries are part of being emotional and social health. Healthy boundaries limit people from abusing your time, money, energy, or self. Healthy boundaries help define an individual’s person hood. They are meant to bring order, peace, and respect into relationships. I know that we all want that for our children.
Our goal for our children is to be confident in setting their own limits and having their own opinions and thus be able to stand up for themselves, while still being open and welcoming to other people.
Teaching children healthy boundaries
First what is a boundary in a relationship?
It could be seen as an imagery line (or fence) that separates you from others (and what you allow others to do with and to you).
Another way to talk about it is that there are rules in life that are there to keep them and other people safe. “I won’t do anything to hurt you and I expect you not to do anything to hurt me, if you do, I’ll let you know”.
This area is all about physical contact and personal space. When it comes to these areas everyone will have their own comfort levels and zones. No matter the age, everyone has the right to protect their body and personal space.
This area involves a person’s thoughts, opinions, and decisions.
These types of boundaries are there to help a person to stay independent, allowing them to separate their needs, wants, and emotions from those of other people. This helps a person not blame another for their feelings and not to accept the responsibility for another person’s emotions. They help each person accept responsibility for their own actions and feelings. Emotional boundaries help a person from attaching too much importance to feelings and situations that are out of their control.
This category is all about how we loan money and how we share our stuff.
Here we have guidelines on what makes a good friend.
Children’s healthy boundaries
Here a child can say ‘no’ to hugs and kisses from anyone because they are in charge of their body (of course this is age-appropriate, a caregiver is allowed to change a diaper or give a bath, that sort of thing is not included in this). They need to learn that no one but a doctor when Mom or Dad is present, should ever touch them where their bathing suits cover them up.
Boundaries in this area allow a person is to have their own thoughts and to hold independent opinions. They also give a person room to navigate discussions and debates.
Learning that saying hurtful things to others is not okay is an example of an emotional boundary, of course it goes in the other direction also it is not OK for someone to say hurtful things to your child either. Teasing would also be an example of crossing a healthy emotional boundary.
In this area a child learns when to share and when it is OK to say no. They learn to respect other peoples’ stuff – toys, home, pets, etc.
Boundaries here involve friendships and will help your child recognize what a good and happy friendship looks and feels like and then what an unhappy and destructive friendship looks and feels like. You can use these discussions when there seems to be a problem in a child’s friendship – either the friend or your child.
Ex. Children who bully, tease, or hit another person are not the definition of a good friend, while a person who is kind and thoughtful are good friends.
How to teach your children healthy boundaries
Model healthy boundaries in your own life.
It is imperative to establish strong boundaries in your home. I’m not talking about harsh rules!! There is a huge difference! Your child needs to learn from your example that you can say no and that you do limit access to yourself and belongings when needed. Your child needs to see you respecting another person’s boundaries. They need to know there are privacy boundaries in the home and as they mature these boundaries will be more in their control. Explain to your child they are in charge of their own body and that other people are in charge of theirs.
Discussing the different types of boundaries and how they help us will guide them into setting their own.
To learn more about this read my blog on Healthy Boundaries .
Discuss rules and why we have them
Children need to know that rules are there to keep them safe. There are general life rules, family rules, school rules, and personal rules. Make sure your child knows that there are consequences that follow the breaking of a rule (or boundary) beforehand. The consequence should be age-appropriate and relate closely to the offense.
Be consistent with your rules or boundaries and follow through with the determined consequence. Being consistent illustrates how you want them to handle their own personal boundaries and you will find that it will eliminate future conflict when your child believes that you say what your mean and you mean what you say. This is the starting place of teaching children about setting their own boundaries.
By following through with consequences of breaking or pushing a boundary you are helping your child know they have the control in their life for that also.
Saying “No” is part of healthy boundaries
Saying no is a basic skill every person needs to learn as it applies to personal boundaries in all areas. Whether it is deciding not to loan money, enforcing your personal space, or refusing to take unwarranted blame, saying ‘no’ is a necessary part of many interactions.
Saying no is often uncomfortable, but we need to get our child accustom to this feeling. This is a good time for role-playing. Follow up with discussions about how to react then on the receiving end of a ‘no’. This will help them learn that another person’s ‘no’ deserves respect and that in turn will build confidence in the strength of their own ‘no’.
When something comes up, use that time to role-play on how to set boundaries. Other times come up with situations your child has faced or could face, and ask them “what if” about these scenarios and what they could say or do in those circumstances. If they need help getting started with this make a list of possible choices with them.
I don’t want to play with you right now.
Don’t push me.
I would like a turn.
I need help.
Can I play with that toy?
No means no.
A friend wouldn’t keep asking me to do something I don’t want to do.
I need you to listen to me.
When you said that is hurt my feelings.
What you did made me sad
I don’t want a hug.
Accept your child’s own personal boundaries
If they want to be alone in the bathroom then let them. If they don’t want hugs right now, so be it. They need to know that they don’t have to hug and kiss people hello and good by if they don’t want to. If you continually ride roughshod over their feelings and boundaries they will never learn or believe the benefit of healthy boundaries.
Teach them about personal preferences.
It is acceptable that people don’t like or enjoy the same things all the time. They can as well as others say no I don’t want to play ball or I don’t want to watch that movie. They need to accept others’ preferences and learn when personal preference is OK and not be afraid of stating theirs.
Teach children healthy boundaries in friendships
This is a skill that will take courage on your child’s part because of their need to fit in or to be liked, yet it is a vital skill they will use for the rest of their lives. It will help them handle peer pressure and bullying if that arises.
You need to help them recognize when their friend is being disrespectful to them, not listening to what they need, hurting their feelings, or hurting them physically. You will need to teach your child what is acceptable behavior on the part of others. You will use role-playing and “what if” scenarios.
This skill goes both ways your child needs to learn that when someone else says “no” it must be honored the first time. Don’t assume the person is joking or playing around.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. With a young child you can’t teach the definition of empathy but you can start helping them become aware of how others feel and to use that awareness to determine their actions.
The best way to start this is to model empathy. Use everyday examples and talk with your child about your feelings and why you act in a certain way.
“I’m sorry I was grumpy and yelled at you. I know that made you feel scared and sad.”
“Let’s bring Nana dinner tonight she just got home from the hospital and is tired.”
“I am feeling sad right now could I have a hug?”
Once you feel they are old enough you can ask questions that will help them gain a better understanding of their reactions and motives.
“How did that make you feel?”
“Why do you think you felt that way?”
“Would you do anything differently next time?”
Then there are questions about what other people are feeling.
“When you took Sam’s toy and he cried, how do you think he felt?”
“You tried to give Linda a hug and she pushed you away. Do you think she wanted a hug? We should ask first next time.”
Setting healthy boundaries requires one to be confident in their own opinions, desires, and needs. This is all about helping your child gain emotional intelligence. Here is a resource to help you further with that.
Learning healthy boundaries at any age is not easy. It takes time and practice and expect failures. Always have your child’s back, in that they know you love them unconditionally. Teaching them how to set boundaries will take time but it will be time that will pay dividends for the rest of your child’s life.