When we think of boundaries, we usually first think of our property boundary. Great. But what about boundaries with children? Are they needed? Do children thrive with them or are they stifled in their childhood?
Kids need boundaries – without them they lose their way. They do best with clear rules and consistent consequences. But they need them to be delivered with love, understanding and kindness. There are reasons we have rules and consequences in life, and talking about them with our children helps them to understand why they need to follow rules – whether it is wearing a seatbelt, wearing a shirt and shoes in a store, or don’t get in a car with someone you don’t know.
We started establishing boundaries with our children when very young. And it is something we continue to do today….and will continue to do, whether they like it or not.
One thing I was always clear on is making sure they understand what a boundary is. We talked about fences and how they keep us safe – whether us away from dangerous stuff, or dangerous stuff away from us. They grasped the fence meaning rather well, so when we saw them trying to get around a boundary we had set, we would say “Oh, it looks like you are trying to climb over the fence. Do you think that is the best idea? What could you do differently?”
Boundaries need to be age appropriate in order for your child to learn and to keep them safe too. If you try and teach them something which they’re just not ready for, they’re not going to understand the importance of it and you’re pushing them towards chaos. Do we really need more chaos in our lives? Um, no.
WHY ARE BOUNDARIES IMPORTANT?
1. Safety: Establishing boundaries helps keep our children safe by teaching them to recognize and respect their own physical and emotional limits. This is also important for personal space, appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
2. Empowerment: Setting boundaries helps our children develop a sense of control over their own bodies, emotions, and personal space. It empowers them to make decisions about what feels comfortable and safe for them.
3. Self-esteem and assertiveness: Boundaries play a crucial role in building and maintaining healthy self-esteem. By teaching our children to assertively communicate their boundaries, they learn to value and trust their own feelings and preferences. This builds confidence and empowers them to assert themselves in various situations – whether social or interpersonal.
4. Respect for others and healthy relationships: Teaching boundaries helps our children understand the importance of respecting others’ boundaries as well. They learn to recognize and honor the boundaries of others and this fosters healthy relationships.
5. Emotional well-being: Boundaries contribute to children’s emotional well-being by promoting self-care and self-awareness. They learn to recognize when they need personal space or time to recharge and understand the value of their emotional needs.
And for parents, I truly think that having healthy boundaries helps alieve anxiety, stress and worry that we will mess our kids up. If we are not going to establish and teach boundaries, then that will come back to bite us.
HOW CAN WE TEACH BOUNDARIES TO KIDS?
As I said earlier, we talked about fences and communicated a lot with the girls to make sure they understood what we were talking about. We still do. They might not like some of what we have in place right now (like no sleep overs), but that’s ok.
Teaching boundaries to children is an important aspect of their social and emotional development. Here are some strategies to effectively teach boundaries to kids:
1. Model appropriate boundaries: Children learn by observing their parents and caregivers. Demonstrate healthy boundaries in your own behavior. Explain why certain boundaries are important.
2. Use clear and consistent communication: Clearly communicate your expectations to children in an age-appropriate way. Explain why these boundaries exist.
3. Reinforce personal space: Teach children that everyone has a right to their personal space. Encourage them to ask for permission before touching or hugging someone and respect others’ personal space and needs. Model this behavior as well.
4. Discuss privacy and consent: Teach children about privacy and the importance of consent. Explain that they have control over their own bodies and should ask for permission before touching others or entering their personal space. Encourage them to speak up if someone crosses their boundaries and teach them how to say “no” assertively.
5. Teach empathy: Help children develop empathy by encouraging them to consider how their actions impact others. Help them understand that different people have different comfort levels and boundaries.
6. Establish family rules: Create clear family rules regarding boundaries and respect. Involve your child in setting these rules and discuss why they are important. Consistently reinforce these rules and discuss any violations to help them understand the consequences.
7. Foster open communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where children feel comfortable discussing their feelings and concerns. Encourage them to communicate when they feel their boundaries have been violated or if they’re uncomfortable in a situation.
WHEN THEY TEST THE LIMITS
It is very safe to say that our children are going to test ALL the boundaries and ALL the limits. That is what they do. It is part of their DNA. But that is also how they are going to learn.
What can we do when they are testing us?
- Take a deep breath and remember “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
- Keep instructions brief
- Be consistent in both the boundary and in your parenting team – inconsistency is a main reason why children test limits
- Follow through on consequences
- Be patient…..this will test you but one day they will get it!
So, one of the best things we can do is teach our children boundaries. It is hard, and it takes time, but it is truly worth it. And while they might buck against them for a bit, it will be worth all the effort.
A book that I learned so much from is “Boundaries with Kids” by Cloud and Townsend. I started using it when teaching – well before I even had children.
Here are some other parenting posts:
Training vs Discipline – what is best for your child?
Raising Powerful and Gentle Children