Teaching Your Toddler Daughter How to Draw Boundaries

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!”

Yes, our daughter is only two years old but we wanted to teach her how to draw boundaries for herself. Here are some steps that we took with all the new (to her) faces that have been and continue to come by:

  1. Listen to her when she says “no.”

    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 JJ 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 needed 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.

  2. Never force a hug or kiss.

    With so many people coming in and out of the house, especially with the holidays, it was important for us to not tell Serena to “give [insert name] a huggie or kissie”. She’s old enough to determine who she wants to hug/kiss and who she doesn’t. Still, there are people that don’t know what we want to teach her and say things like, “If you want a cookie, give me a kissie.” Yes, this really happened once and yes, she walked away! In an effort to avoid any awkward confrontations, we did two things: 1) we started asking her if she wants to hug/kiss someone in front of him/her so s/he hears the response loud and clear and 2) we taught her how to shake hands (and say “nice to meet you”). Now when she sees someone that she recognizes (a family member or close friend), we ask her if she wants to give a hug: “Serena, would you like to give a huggie?” If the answer is no, then we ask if she wants to shake his/her hand. If she agrees (usually, she prefers this over hugs), we have her say “Nice to meet you” so the recipient knows that she doesn’t want to do anything more than a hug. To be honest, there are many times that my parents have come over and she only wants to give a hug to one grandparent or doesn’t want to give a hug to anyone; and that’s okay. She shakes there hand or even just waves. I think this is important because it makes her feel like a grown up, having the choice of who to hug and not hug. It also let’s her know that her body is her own and she doesn’t have to share it with someone she doesn’t want to.

  3. Don’t just set the example, be 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.

What other strategies do you implement at home that work well with setting boundaries?

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