Many people labor under the delusion that boundaries are only called for among adults. The truth is, even children need to have their own boundaries, and learn to respect those of others.
Teaching your child the concept of boundaries might be difficult, but it is a necessary step to ensure children’s healthy growth.
1. Explain the concept and the necessity of having boundaries.
Boundaries can be briefly defined as the limits of a person. Whether it is physical or emotional, verbal or non-verbal, the purpose of a boundary is to create a safety zone for people.
At first, kids might have difficulty comprehending what boundaries are. It is because as small babies, they have to rely on others, like parents or relatives, to be fed and taken care of.
Therefore, most children do not have a say in expressing what they like and what they dislike. Even if they do, their opinions will still be deemed as childish or irrelevant. Therefore, you need to be patient in order for your kids to fully understand what you are trying to explain.
You can start using the following sentences.
“Have you ever seen the sports field? There are lines all around to make sure players do not step on them. If you do, then you break the rules. The same principle applies to personal boundaries. Your boundaries determine what is acceptable and what is not for you. Is that clear?”
To make things easier for kids, you may want to add a few examples of what can be considered as boundaries.
“Do you remember the time when your friend Lou trying to take your new pencil? And you felt uncomfortable, right? That is one boundary of yours, which is not letting others get your possessions.”
“You told me a while ago that you dislike blue because it looks gloomy. I stopped buying blue outfits for you since then. But what if I started bringing in blue pieces and forced you to put them on? I would make you upset because I crossed the line and ignored your wishes.”
Some kids may get confused as to why boundaries are called for in our society. You can simply tell them that different people have different tastes, hobbies, or personal preferences.
Apart from the pervert or illegal ones, all boundaries should be respected. In understanding that, kids are better equipped to socialize with people, especially when they leave their homes and start going to school.
Also, boundaries help kids to stay safe and sound, preventing others from trying to take advantage of them.
2. Help kids navigate their feelings to figure out their own boundaries.
Once your kids get what boundaries are, it is a must that they try to pinpoint their personal limits. You can assist kids in this case by asking several questions.
“Would you like it if sister Anne borrows your dress?”
“Are you okay with your grandparents kissing you on the cheek at family gatherings?”
“Do you feel uncomfortable when being invited to eat junk food?”
“Which one would you choose, stay inside during school breaks or go out and play sports with your friends?”
It is not difficult for children to give you a list of do’s and don’ts, but not all of them can be seen as boundaries. For example, a child may see “not eating vegetables” as a boundary, simply because he or she hates the taste of plants!
But like it or not, he or she must press on with having vegetables daily because it is an irreplaceable source of vitamins and nutrients for human bodies.
Or sometimes kids want to stay up all night long watching TV. When forced to go to sleep, they end up whining that parents violate their safety zone. The thing is, sleeping is a necessary activity for everyone, as it restores our physical and mental health.
The previous behaviors can hardly be seen as boundaries. Rather, they are personal preferences, and they are not healthy for the development of a child.
You should guide your child through their self-defined boundaries, and explain what is okay and what is not for them.
Let them know that having boundaries is not the same as “I can get whatever I want, and if you don’t let me do it, then you don’t respect me!”
3. Tell kids it is important to emphasize on their boundaries.
Determining their own boundaries is useless unless kids are vocal and straightforward. If kids do not tell or hint at others on their limits, it is likely that some people will be a boundary violator.
So how can kids practice making their boundaries official?
- Start with suggestions. Some kids are timid, so giving out suggestions is a great way to let others understand what they can and cannot do.
“Hey, can you stop poking me with your pen? It hurts.”
“Umm, excuse me, is it okay if you lower the volume while I’m trying to study?”
“I don’t like it when you keep touching me on my head. Next time, will you please not do it?”
- Say no. No is one of the words that send out the most obvious message.
When your kid is offered something they dislike, or they are asked to perform a task, not within their responsibilities, get your kids to refuse firmly and clearly with a “No!”
- Do not shy away from authority figures.
Most kids are taught to respect people like policemen or teachers, but it is worth reminding your children that even these powerful figures cannot violate others’ boundaries (unless when these boundaries are illegal or against the rules, of course.)
Urging children to voice their opinion when they feel unease is not an easy task, as some children tend to be people pleasers. Once again, you must stress the importance of boundaries, and tell your kids they must be active in protecting themselves.
But what if someone disrespects a child’s boundaries? In this case, some kids might feel discouraged to maintain their own limits, as they think other people will continue ignoring them.
As a parent, you should tell kids that no one understands themselves better than they do. If someone makes fun of their rightful boundaries, it is the violator’s problem. Ask your child to remind that person immediately, and repeat it until their boundaries are respected.
You can teach your kids to use the following sentences.
“Hey, last time, you hugged me without my consent. Please ask for it first before you touch me.”
“You might or might not know it yet, but I hate being patted on my shoulder. Please do not do it.”
“I don’t like fashion games, so stop being rude to me when I refuse to play with you.”
4. Assist kids in understanding the boundaries of other people and how not to violate them.
Convincing kids to respect other people’s wishes is a challenging task because sometimes they do not feel the need to.
For example, your child may think that borrowing a book from their best friend without permission is acceptable. After all, the two are besties!
Or your child feels like throwing negative comments at their older sibling is okay, because after all, “It was only a joke!” But as the saying goes “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, kids who violate personal boundaries stand a higher chance of receiving the same kind of treatment.
You should try to make your kids understand that there are things that seem trivial for them, but they are actually a big deal for others. The only way to find out these boundaries is to ask questions.
“Hey, is it okay for me to share my breakfast with you?”
“Can I have a copy of your new DVD game?”
“Am I allowed to touch your newly built sandcastle?”
Once the boundaries are confirmed by the other party, it is of utmost importance that children respect them. Do not let your kids become a boundary violator.
5. Set a role model for kids to follow.
Kids learn through imitation, so it makes sense that your children will look up to you and try to copy the way you interact with others.
Therefore, make sure you always maintain your behaviors, especially in front of small children.
It would send a confusing message if you try to touch someone without their consent, while the other day, you just taught your kid to ask for permission before engaging in physical contact.
Trying to be a perfect parent is impossible, but you can always create a good impression on your children first by not crossing the lines of others.
Personal boundaries are not a new concept, but not until recently do parents begin to take it seriously. You may encounter several difficulties while trying to teach boundaries for your children, from lack of cooperation to misunderstandings.
However, for your kid to grow up in a healthy and civil manner, it is a must that they become well aware of their own boundaries while respecting those of others.