5 Ways to Help Children Set Boundaries

One of the best things a parent can do is help their children set boundaries. Boundaries help children develop limits for themselves and their activities.

One example is saying “no” to their friends when they want to do something that they know their parents would not approve of or asking them to do something that makes them feel unsafe.

Other boundaries include telling your children to stop playing with something when it’s dangerous or telling them not to eat something that you know will cause them harm.

Limits are suitable for children because they can become impulsive and out of control without them. Children might engage in risky behavior that can hurt them or someone else. When they set boundaries, children are less likely to say “yes” to things they shouldn’t.

How can you help your children set boundaries?

  • Become a good example yourself. If you want your children to set limits for themselves, they must see that you set boundaries.

Children tend to copy their parents. Instructions only stick when you practice what you preach. You might think you’re speaking to only your spouse. You might assume they’re the only ones paying attention. But children listen. They pick up on signals about you.

When you treat your spouse well, your child will adapt. However, when you don’t set limits for yourself, your child won’t develop self-discipline or self-control.

Children who see their parents checking in with each other before making a decision are more likely to follow those guidelines.

  • Cultivate physical boundaries. Everyone has the right to protect their physical body, irrespective of age. And everyone has personal space.

For example, if your 5-year-old doesn’t want a teacher to hug her, no one should force her to ignore her resistance. She can say no, and no one should pressure her or judge her for that feeling. Trying to coerce her will cause her to doubt herself and her boundaries.

  • Show respect for the limits they impose. Children need to know that they can make decisions. For example, a close relative may expect a hug whenever she visits, but your child needs to know that she can make a unilateral decision and refuse the hug. Physical contact like kisses and hugs should always be a choice, not an obligation.
  • Decide consequences. When setting boundaries for your children, let them know the consequences of breaking them. Before you decide on a behavior, involve your child. Let the consequences relate to the offense. And ensure that it’s age-appropriate. Taking all these steps gives your child a positive lesson on setting their boundaries and following through.
  • Take your child’s boundaries seriously. When your child has limits, their responsibility is clear. It makes it easier for them to prioritize tasks, make decisions, and deal with problems. Actively listen to them. When they tell you what’s okay and not, don’t dismiss them as unimportant or ridiculous. Make your child feel like they have autonomy and that their opinion matters.
  • Listen to your child, even when you disagree. Let them know that you respect them and listen to what they say. Adults tend to dismiss the boundaries of children without thinking about it. For instance, when a child tells you they hate getting tickled in their pits, instead of saying, “Oh no! I don’t think you hate it that much,” your response could be, “That’s okay, that won’t happen again.”

It’s important to set boundaries for children and help them understand when it’s appropriate to be assertive and when it’s appropriate to be quiet and let an adult make the decision.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to set a good example by respecting your child’s boundaries. When we follow the rules for our children, they are more likely to follow theirs.

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