Encouraging children to set their own boundaries and limits is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Not only are you teaching your children how to think independently, but you also teach them how to treat themselves as well as others.
While doing some research for this article, I was surprised at how often articles popped up about setting boundaries with your adult children. This makes me wonder if those now-adult kids were taught how to take other people’s boundaries into account when they were young. It seems a bit late in the day to be trying to teach adult children to respect boundaries, in fact by the time your children are adults they should know and respect your boundaries and have boundaries of their own.
When children have their own firm boundaries, they are more likely to succeed throughout their lives. If you’ve had difficulty setting these up in your home, take a look at these ten ways parents help children set boundaries and limits.
10 WAYS YOU CAN HELP YOUR CHILD SET BOUNDARIES AND LIMITS
#1 SET PRINCIPLE-BASED BOUNDARIES
To help children understand, recognise and set boundaries, begin by setting a few basic boundaries that apply to everyone. Core principles are a good place to start.
For example, you may want to include boundaries that include safety, respect, responsibility, etc. When children see and respect other people’s boundaries, they are better able to set clear boundaries for themselves.
We were just talking this morning about when one sibling asks the other to stop, then we need to respect that request and boundary.
#2 DEVELOP PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES
These boundaries would probably fall into the “safety” and “respect” categories. When it comes to physical contact and personal space, everyone has their own comfort zone and levels. Regardless of age, everyone has a right to protect his or her body and personal space.
For example, if 3-year-old Janie doesn’t want to hug Aunt Mary or anyone else, she has a right to say no and expect the wish to be respected. Coercing or making children dismiss their own feelings can lead to confusion and self-doubt, as well as children devaluing their own needs and feelings later. With the prevalence of child abuse and molestation, learn to respect your children’s feelings, they may not feel comfortable in hugging or being touched by certain adults because it makes them uncomfortable. If they are forced into physical contact with someone that they are not comfortable with, they may feel they do not have a choice and maybe unwilling to report abuse or molestation should it occur.
#3 ESTABLISH EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES
These boundary lines allow you and your children to separate me from you. They help everyone to accept responsibility for their own actions and feelings. Emotional boundaries also protect you from putting too much importance on feelings and situations that we have no control over.
While it’s important to be able to separate yourself from others, it’s also important to be empathetic, caring, thoughtful, considerate and respectful. When someone crosses one of your emotional boundaries, it’s ok to tell them what happened.
For example, your children could say, “What you said hurt my feelings. I try not to hurt your feelings or disrespect you and I expect you to be considerate of my feelings and respect me too. If I hurt your feelings, please tell me.” Allow space for your child to express his or her displeasure. Some parents believe that when children voice their opinions that they are being disrespectful but that is not always the case. Allow them to express themselves and reinforce their boundaries respectfully.
#4 GIVE CHILDREN A VOICE AND A CHOICE
Make time to have family meetings as well as private conversations with your kids. Give children a chance to express their successes, failures, questions and concerns. Children who feel as if they have a voice and a choice are more likely to follow rules and adhere to boundaries.
Show your children that their opinions are important by carefully considering their perspective and explaining why you make your final decisions regarding boundaries.
#5 OUTLINE CONSEQUENCES
Make sure your children are aware of the consequences that will take place beforehand, should they choose not to respect a boundary or limit. When choosing a consequence for a behaviour, allow your child to have input. And try to have the consequence be a real-world consequence directly connected to the offence.
Also, make sure it is age-appropriate and relates closely to the offence. This teaches your children how to set their own limits as well as predict possible outcomes and consequences in later life.
#6 BE CONSISTENT
Follow through with your expectations and consequences. If you decide a rule stands, it stands. You must mean what you say and say what you mean. Otherwise, children will constantly push the boundaries to manipulate you.
Boundaries are dynamic. As your child’s understanding, maturity level and needs grow, boundaries should be adjusted. Being consistent teaches children to stand firm in their beliefs and what they feel is acceptable. Consistency gives children the courage to stand up for themselves and to set healthy boundaries.
#7 MAINTAIN HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
Talk to your children about what it means to be a good friend. Let them decide what their boundaries are.
Help your kids recognize actions of a good, healthy friendship and those of an unhealthy, destructive friendship. People who reject, bully, tease or disrespect your child are not good friends. Those who accept your children for who they are, treat them with respect and truly care are good friends.
When your children are older, this will also be important as they choose a boyfriend or girlfriend, so it’s a good idea to begin putting these boundaries in place at a young age.
#8 ACCEPT PERSONAL DIFFERENCES
Teach children that everyone has different likes and dislikes, as well as comfort levels. If a sibling or friend wants to play football, it doesn’t mean that he/she has to play. Help each of your children figure out what works best for them and what doesn’t work at all.
#9 ROLE-PLAY SITUATIONS AND RESPONSES
Talk to your children about how to verbalise what they’re thinking or feeling. Give them key phrases that they can use in certain situations. Use “what if…” scenarios and ask the children to explain what they would say and do in certain situations.
# 10 LET CHILDREN SELF-SOLVE PROBLEMS
Don’t take sides in sibling squabbles. (I know that can be tough!) Teach them how to solve problems on their own.
Don’t take sides in sibling squabbles. Instead, teach them how to solve problems on their own. Rescuing your children each time there is an issue keeps them from taking personal responsibility and their social skills may suffer if they don’t get to practice making compromises and working out solutions without a mediator.