How to Teach Your Kids to Set Healthy Boundaries and Raise Them to Be Strong
How to teach your kids to set healthy boundaries so they are socially healthy adults.
We had a lot of family and friends come visit us since the boys were born. I wasn’t too worried about the boys or what would happen to them if people held them; I was concerned about Serena. She’s a very friendly and happy child but like every other child, she has her moments. Her moments of “I don’t want to say hi”, “No huggies”, and the best one: “No, no, no!” I am definitely monitoring it to watch out for triggers and see how her sensory needs can be met.
Honestly, yes, I know that our daughter is only two years old, but we wanted to teach her how to draw boundaries for herself. Boundaries are 100% learned and it’s important to learn them as a child. This is why it’s a priority to learn how to teach your kids to set healthy boundaries.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Boundaries come in many forms: physical, mental, emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual and in today’s age, even digital.
In its simplest form, a boundary is an imaginary line you draw to set a limit with others or the environment in an effort to protect yourself.
Examples of setting boundaries with young kids
- Putting up baby gates and baby proofing the house to make sure they are safe.
- Holding hands when crossing the street or walking in the neighborhood.
- Limiting screen time for kids.
- Parents holding a child’s hand back when s/he wants to hit someone and saying, “We don’t hit.”
- Setting a financial limit for allowances or presents.
- Saying no to hugs or kisses from adult or peers.
- Having a private, safe space (bathroom to change clothes, bedroom to unwind, etc.)
Why Is Setting Healthy Boundaries Important?
Children must learn to set boundaries to protect themselves and also to respect the personal space of others. A neurotypical child should learn to communicate things they are comfortable and uncomfortable with so as they grow older, they are able to have healthy relationships with their adult peers. Setting healthy boundaries can help establish one’s identity and define their individuality. They also help kids take responsibility of themselves, developing a sense of autonomy.
Tips To Teach Your Kids To Set Healthy Boundaries
Be very, very clear about what the boundary is, where it’s physical, emotional, sexual, etc. It doesn’t matter the type of boundary, but it does matter that you teach kids communicate what the boundary is.
“I don’t want you to touch my toys”
“Please don’t touch my toys”
“Don’t touch my toys right now.”
The first one is really just expressing a desired outcome. I don’t want you to touch my toys but I’m not explicitly telling you to not touch them. It’s making it more about the child’s desires instead of setting a boundary to the other person.
A lot of people would say “Please” or “Thank you” because that’s polite, but I feel like people see “please” as a request rather than a firm boundary. It’s personal preference and I prefer not to teach my kids to say please when communicating a boundary. You don’t want anyone to misconstrue your tone.
It’s the small difference between saying to your partner, “Could you take the trash out before bed?” and “Would you take the trash out before bed?” Yea, s/he probably could, but that doesn’t mean you’re clear about asking your partner to take the garbage out; it’s so implicit. The “Would you” is very explicit because it is basically understood that your partner can take the trash out, but you need him/her to make it a priority before bed.
This actually helps the child communicate the boundary in a “matter of fact” way. Like, don’t F with me and my toys.
Another way to teach setting boundaries is by modeling.
Serena is a daddy’s girl. She loves to chase daddy around, play hide-and-go-seek, and tickle. She’s so ticklish. Even if you’re not touching her and do the motions of the tickle, she starts laughing. Sometimes, she gets so playful that she’s out of breath from laughing so much!
One day, Serena and Sanj were having a ticklefest; in the middle of all her laughing, she said, “No, daddy, no.” In that moment, my husband and I looked and each other and knew that when she says “No,” it means no. Stop now. No more. We are modeling the behavior of her drawing her boundary and us respecting it. We need to teach her that when she said no to someone, anyone, the expected behavior is to stop immediately. Don’t play with me, don’t tickle me, don’t hug me, don’t touch me.
Set the Example
I think this is the most important one. As a parent, in everything you do, you must not just set the example, you must be the example. What do I mean by the two? Well, setting the example is kind of like saying, “Look at those kids smoking, they are a bad example of health. These other kids here are not smoking, they are a good example of being healthy.” Being the example is not smoking and being healthy yourself.
Kids learn primarily by two ways: witnessing/watching and repetition. When someone touches you and you don’t like it, how are you responding? If someone accidentally touches you on the subway, do you say, “excuse me” or do you stay silent? Are you awkward or giving off bad vibes when hugging someone? If you’re sick and don’t want hugs, do you let people know? Ultimately, you must be the prime example for your daughter and set your own boundaries with people you know and with strangers.
This one is a little bit more involved because it really takes time for them to learn about setting boundaries through pretend play. First, they must be old enough to understand how pretend play works and using the imagination. The primary way to teach through role play is by asking questions: “If/then”
Setting: Playing with magnatiles
Me: Hey Serena, can I have some magnatiles to make my own house?
Her: No, thanks.
Me: Goes ahead and takes her magnatiles
Me: Serena, if someone takes your toys and you don’t want them to, then what do you say or do?
Her: Don’t touch my toys, Mommy.
What To Do When A Boundary Is Crossed
- Physically remove your child. It’s important to sometimes remove your child from the situation and ensure they or others are kept safe. This is as simple as stopping your child from crossing the road alone – “Stop walking immediately!”
- Communicate the boundary – “Don’t cross the road alone; wait for mom or dad.”
- Remind them why the boundary is there in the first place and what is the impact of crossing the boundary. “Don’t cross the street without an adult because there are cars driving and you can get seriously hurt.”
Unless the boundary is crossed constantly, I would recommend moving on without any yelling or a lecture. If the boundary is crossed repeatedly, I suggest making it a more firm boundary and setting up a consequence, especially if it endangers anyone when the boundary is crossed.
What other strategies do you implement at home that work well with setting boundaries?
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