As a parent, we are always looking for the best ways to help our children learn to make positive choices. One way to set your kids up for success? Help them to establish healthy boundaries.
Setting healthy personal boundaries, and being able to recognize and heed others' also, is paramount for building strong relationships on a foundation of respect. It's so important to teach children about healthy boundaries from a young age - they need to learn to set boundaries for themselves and respect those of others. The earlier they learn about their own limits and see the importance of respecting others, the easier it will be for them to navigate healthy relationships as adults.
What are healthy boundaries?
Boundaries are important to protect yourself, your life, and your own alignment. They are a set of ‘rules’ that we create internally for ourselves, for behaviours we will tolerate, for the standards we implement for those in our lives, to the amount of hours we want to work or the time we spend around others. There are no rules as to where you set boundaries - it’s all about where YOU feel you need to set them in order to keep your personal well being healthy. Our boundaries will necessarily change depending on the setting, the people with whom we're interacting, and our own comfort. To teach children the importance of personal boundaries, it's helpful to understand the many manifestations those boundaries can form.
As parents, it is our role to let kids set their boundaries and express their truths, whatever they may be. And then respect them.
Teaching kids how to set healthy boundaries
- Teach them it’s ok to say ‘no’
Saying 'no' is a necessary part of many human interactions and a basic skill every child should learn as it’s applicable to personal boundaries of all types. A key one to this is forced affection - how many times do parents force kids to say hello to a stranger, or kiss their aunty? When do we acknowledge that their bodies are their own and how can we educate them on saying no, standing up for themselves and what they want? Another really good way of teaching kids to say no and respecting them is tickling - when they say no, stop. No matter what. Teach their siblings the same, no means no.
Practice early and often with your child. Run through different scenarios—saying no to a family member asking for a hug, for example, will sound different than saying no to a friend's peer pressure—and emphasize that a simple 'no' is sometimes more than sufficient. The same goes for the other way around, too - while practicing how to say no, follow-up with discussions about how to react when on the receiving end of one. Understanding the situation from its opposite viewpoint can give your child some much-needed insight. They will learn that another person's 'No' deserves to be respected and that, in turn, can give them confidence in the validity of their own ‘no.'
- Lead by example
As with many lessons, children learn from examples. So before you teach your children about healthy boundaries, it’s important to determine your own boundaries. Check in with yourself periodically about the state of your personal boundaries, keeping them healthy, and your children will have a strong example to follow as they grow up. Showing respect for each person in the household, 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.
- Help build their emotional intelligence
Open and honest discussion between child and parent encourages them to bring up their feelings and emotions without shame. Once your child is old enough, ask questions that will help them gain a better understanding of their motivations and reactions. You can begin with questions such as ,
- How did that make you feel?
- Why do you think you felt that way?
- Would you do anything differently next time?
- Find, and discuss, examples
Sometimes kids need to see to believe. Make empathy part of the conversation when you draw on their favourite show, pointing out examples of good or bad behaviour. For example, if a character on TV is being bullied, try asking: 'How do you think he felt when the other kids called him stupid? Is it ever ok to treat someone like that?'.
Really listen when your child tells you what is, and isn’t, ok with them, and take their requests to heart whenever possible. Help them build confidence in their own emotional health by having conversations about the different types of boundaries and why they help us. Soon, they’ll be able to commit to maintaining their personal boundaries and their relationships will be all the stronger because of it.
For more information on healthy personal boundaries, listen to the Flourish & Fulfilled Podcast episode ‘How To Set Clear Boundaries & Take Back Control’ here.