How to teach your kids about boundaries

In this podcast (episode #504) and blog, I talk about the importance of teaching your child about boundaries. This is part 1 of a 2-part series on parenting, boundaries, and mental health.  

From the moment children are born, they are tied to their environment and the people within their environment. They are born into a community which they both shape and are shaped by.   

A child’s identity is closely tied to their community – their family, friends, and other acquaintances. Children develop a sense of who they are in relation to who they are with. This has both a huge potential for growth and connection and a huge potential for harm, which is why teaching your child how to have healthy relationships from a young age is so important for their mental and physical wellbeing.  

One of the best ways to teach your child about healthy relationships is to teach them how to set boundaries and model what healthy boundaries look like in your own life and with your child. Explain to your child that boundaries are rooted in respect for oneself and respect for others, and show them what this looks like in your own life.  

A great way of showing your child what boundaries are is by using everyday explanations and examples so that they can grasp the idea better. Give your child different options for events that happen daily, where they have to make a decision based on how they feel in the moment. For example, when a child wants to play with something that may not be safe for them to play with, tell them they cannot play with that object, but don’t just leave the matter there. Explain to them why that object is not a toy, then give them a few options of things that they can play with and have them decide what they want to do. In this case, you set a boundary for something the child is not allowed to do, you explain why, and then you let them decide what they feel they want to do with the other options available. 

It is also important to remember that boundaries are not just for older children or adults. They are a set of rules someone creates that identifies them as an individual and sets out what they emotionally and physically like or dislike. It is a way someone, regardless of their age, can let the people in their life know what makes them feel comfortable in their own environment, and, as such, boundaries can help build and develop stronger connections with other people. 

A great way to teach our children about healthy boundaries is to respect their space, time, privacy and emotions, even when they are young (depending on their age and developmental level, and considering your child’s safety). If we want our children to be able to set healthy boundaries with others, they should be able to “practice” this by setting boundaries with the people they feel the safest with—their parents or caregivers.  

We can do this by truly listening to what our children say, observing how they react, and creating space to let them know that if they are uncomfortable with something, then it is okay to tell us. For example, if your child does not want to be hugged by other people (even a close family member like a grandmother), letting them know their feelings are okay teaches them how to navigate relationship challenges from a young age.  

I want to stress this point because we usually hear about how important it is to set boundaries with your children and how to tell them no, but not enough about acknowledging and accepting our children’s own need for boundaries. Even though children may not fully grasp the concept of boundaries, they are very aware that there are certain things that they do not enjoy or feel comfortable with. When we as parents and guardians acknowledge this, we give our children the confidence to voice their needs and desires, as well as teaching them from younth the importance of saying “no” and the value of consent.  

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we just let our children do what they want in the name of “boundaries”. Rather, it means that, as parents and caregivers, we need to distinguish between enforcing the necessary parts of parenting (for example, like brushing their teeth or going to bed at a certain time), while also understanding that our children also need space to learn establish their own boundaries, desires and shape their own identity (within the comfort of their home, knowing that we as parents are there as a “safety net” to help and guide them).  

This will look different for different ages and situations, but includes things like not sharing information about your child’s personal struggles on social media without their permission, or, when they are older, not sharing anything that they have told you in confidence with others unless it is a matter of their safety. Some parents may think they have a right to do this, but it shows their child that their personal privacy is not respected, and this can quickly backfire, often encouraging your child to hide more of their life from you.  

For more on teaching your child about boundaries, listen to my podcast (episode #504). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).       

Preorder my new book How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess before August 7th, 2023 to receive exclusive bonuses, including access to a 1-hour webinar + Q&A session on back-to-school tips and strategies to help your child mentally prepare for the year ahead! You can preorder here.  

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Podcast Highlights 

2:00 How to help your child clean up their mental mess 

8:20 Why it is important to teach your child about boundaries  

11:20 Why we need to model boundaries for our children & teach them what boundaries look like in their own lives 

14:20 Why it is important to create a safe space at home for our children 

15:45 What boundaries are & why they are an important part of raising resilient children 

18:16 Boundaries are for everyone, even young children! 

22:40, 25:14 What it means to respect your child’s boundaries  

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional. 

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