Many children are unaware of boundaries. Because of this, it appears as though all they want to do is push and test limits. However, learning boundaries is part of anyone’s development. It helps children learn independence and make good choices.
Teaching children boundaries also helps them learn to carve out respectful spaces for themselves. This way, they’re able to maintain boundaries among themselves. This also teaches kids how to have healthy relationships and friendships. This can help them avoid toxic situations and even let a trusted adult know if they are getting hurt.
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Steps to teach children boundaries and why it’s important
1. Teach them to identify what feels bad
Your child needs to understand what makes them uncomfortable and what’s permissible. Getting clarity for what they need to ensure doesn’t happen again helps them avoid situations where their friends could hurt them.
2. Teach them to be clear
Children slowly learn the importance of words. Various statements have varying degrees of ambiguity. For instance, if your child asks to visit a friend, and you respond, “We’ll see,” it’s not definitive. It’s also not positive or negative. Children need firmer responses. If they ask to visit their friends, you say after they finish their chores or simply say no because it’s almost dinner time. Children will often mimic how their parents communicate, and being clear makes it easier for them to maintain boundaries with firm language. They won’t say, “I think you should stop that,” when someone makes them uncomfortable. They’ll offer a firm and respectful no.
3. Show them what to do when someone crosses their boundaries
As a parent, when a child crosses a boundary, you can scold them or punish them. For example, if they fail to do certain chores or don’t finish their homework on time, they can get privileges taken away. However, children can’t punish adults or even other children. You can use examples to show them what to do. If you cross someone else’s boundaries, apologise wholeheartedly. When your child sees this, they’ll expect better manners and an apology from whoever wronged them. If none are forthcoming, children can know to avoid being close to this person.
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4. Treat others how you want to be treated
Children can learn the golden rule best from the adults around them. If they want their boundaries respected, they must respect other people’s boundaries. This also teaches children empathy.
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5. No means no
Your child has learned to be assertive and empathetic, but some people can still take liberties because they’re a child. Strangers who like touching their hair or pinching their cheeks need to be told off. Your child may not be able to make them stop, but they need to trust that you can step in and make it clear to these adults that these actions make your child uncomfortable, and they should stop. If another child is bothering yours and they have been unable to make them stop, speak with their parent or guardian to make it clear that no means no.
6. Show them that you will respect their boundaries
Sometimes parents don’t listen to their children and force them to interact with other adults in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Like telling them to be respectful and accept hugs from people they don’t know. It makes them uncomfortable when they’re forced to entertain these people, even after making it clear. This violates their boundaries. As a parent, you must enforce your child’s boundaries, even around family members and friends. Make it clear that your child won’t accept hugs if they don’t want them. As a result, your child learns that boundaries are to be enforced and respected, and they can do this for their friends and siblings as they grow up.
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Learning to set boundaries is a healthy habit for children. But most importantly, it will help them become empathetic and avoid unnecessary conflict.
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