As a parent, you may have wondered how best to help your children learn to make positive choices. One way to set your children up for success is to establish strong boundaries in your home.
It’s essential to begin instructing your children about boundaries between themselves and others very early on in their childhood. A child who grows up in a home where healthy limits are well established will learn to apply such boundaries in his or her own life, thus developing better self-control and the capacity to make positive choices.
What Does “Boundary” mean?
A boundary signifies a limit that a person has for themselves. Limits that people set can be physical or emotional boundaries.
1. Physical boundaries. This limit can be physical and tangible, such as one’s own body parts. This involves explaining to a child that his body belongs only to himself and that nobody else teaches him to develop a sense of his physical self. Explaining, “Daddy’s body belongs to him” and “Your body belongs to you” is a good place to start.
2. Emotional boundaries. Another type of boundary is more emotional and than physical. Teaching children that it’s not okay to say hurtful things to others is an example of an emotional boundary. Teasing would be another way of crossing a person’s emotional boundaries.
In a sense, boundaries are rules that you live by. Living with boundaries basically means, “I won’t do anything to harm you” and “I expect you not to do anything to harm me, but if you do, I’ll let you know.”
When you’re raising kids to have healthy boundaries, it’s important to allow your children to have and express their own feelings. This one can be pretty tough as it isn’t unusual for some parents to try to suppress a child’s healthy behavioral expression.
For example, if a 4-year-old starts crying and stomps her feet, what would you do as a parent? One healthy strategy to ensure your 4-year-old develops healthy boundaries is to help her label her feelings. Say something like, “I see that you’re frustrated that you can’t have the candy right now. Maybe you can have some candy after dinner.” Then, move on with life.
You helped her to label her emotions. You chose not to punish her or demand that she stop crying or “Straighten up right now.” As a parent, you just showed acceptance of your child’s feelings. Each time you behave this way as a parent, you’re reinforcing your child’s natural sense of self and boundaries.
Another example is a two or three-year who throws a toy at their sibling. Again, tell your child that it’s okay to have and express angry feelings, but it’s not okay to throw a toy at others. During the episode, show no feelings. When you’re establishing boundaries, it’s time to be diplomatic. Be firm, but not frustrated or angry.
Simply state, “It’s not okay to throw a toy at your brother. When you throw a toy, you have to sit in a chair,” and say nothing more until the minutes have passed. Have your child sit in a chair for the number of minutes that matches their age (if they’re two years old, they sit for 2 minutes; 3 years old, 3 minutes).
After the time is up, thank your child for sitting in the chair and go on with your day. Hopefully, your child will not throw a toy again. Instead, he or she will see that you allowed them to have and show feelings without negative consequences, as long as they stayed within your boundary.
Expect your children to occasionally “test the limit,” or challenge your boundary–this is completely normal. When these testing behaviors occur, think of each situation as an opportunity to show your kids the consequences of crossing the line.
Sometimes, there will be situations when you find it prudent to explain some boundary situations or “rules” to your child. For example, telling your child that no one but a doctor when Mom or Dad is also present should touch your child where their bathing suit fits is an effective way to teach limits and boundaries related to his or her own body.
Ultimately, the single best way to teach children healthy boundaries is for parents to have healthy boundaries themselves and to model them in the home.
Showing respect for each person in the house, ensuring everyone has rights to their feelings and appropriate expressions of them, as well as talking openly and honestly about any challenging issues demonstrate healthy boundaries for children.
From the time your children are born, you’re charged to teach them many things so they’ll grow up to make positive choices in life. Help create happier, healthier lives for your kids by teaching your children about limits and boundaries.
Parents who ensure their kids grow up learning about limits and boundaries provide a solid foundation for their children’s futures. Apply some of these methods in your home to teach your kids about having and maintaining healthy limits and boundaries, and your kids will thrive.
For tips on creating boundaries with teens, read our expert article here.