Teaching Kids Boundaries

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Teaching Kids Boundaries

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about boundaries. I’m currently reading Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend and it’s so good. I wish I would have read it as a young adult!

Last week I posted on the Rock Your Marriage blog about creating healthy boundaries for your marriage. This week, I’d like to talk about teaching our kids healthy boundaries, with an emphasis on teaching them to set boundaries for themselves.

Boundaries are safeguards we put in place for ourselves and our relationships to help us be at our best. Boundaries promote health and safety in relationships. They communicate what is acceptable or unacceptable between parties.

There are so many scenarios our children face while at school, with their friends or during extra-curricular activities where it’s appropriate for them to have boundaries. Here are three examples along with ways we can talk to our kids about creating and maintaining these boundaries:

Body Safety

From the time they are two or three years old, we need to talk to our kids about boundaries with their bodies. Talk about how it’s only appropriate for mom, dad and the pediatrician to examine their bodies or help when it’s bath time or when they go potty. If anyone tries to cross that boundary by asking them to show or touch their private parts or do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they have the right to say no and should tell mom and dad right away.

As kids get older, this boundary should be reinforced as you allow your kids to play at their friends’ houses or have sleepovers. Along the same lines, our family has a boundary that the kids can only play with friends with their bedroom door open. Whether or not your family allows sleepovers and with whom is another boundary to decide on as parents and talk to your kids about your decision.

I once read in a parenting magazine that a good question to ask your kids when you pick them up from a birthday party, a friend’s house or even school is “Did you feel safe?” We’re often tempted to only ask, “Did you have a good time?” but if we follow up with the question of safety, we might pick up on something otherwise missed.

Playground and Friendship Conflicts

It’s very common that kids will come home and tell you about drama on the playground. Recently, both of my kids had conflicts with friends. My son said a friend at school never lets him pick the game they play. So I told him, “Put this boundary in place with your friend. Tell him you can take turns picking games to play. If he’s not okay with that, then tell him you’re going to do something else or play with another friend.” Putting the boundary in place isn’t mean, it allows my son to voice his feelings and prevents his friend from bossing him around.

My daughter’s conflict was very similar and I gave her the same advice. Putting a boundary in place is healthy and necessary to protect ourselves and our relationships with other people. If friends aren’t willing to respect our boundaries, then it’s an indication that we should invest in different friendships.

Respecting Authority

We should also teach our kids about complying with the boundaries of authority figures in their lives. As parents, we put boundaries in place to protect our children. Whether it’s not allowing the kids to run out in the street, restricting the amount of junk food they eat or making sure they go to bed on time, these are all boundaries we put in place for our children’s safety and protection. Of course there are countless others, but you can use these as examples when you talk to your kids about having the purpose and importance of having boundaries.

You can talk about how teachers also must have boundaries in their classroom that promote learning and block out distractions. Ask them to imagine if there were no rules or boundaries at school, there would be chaos! The same is true in our lives as individuals and families.

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Equipping our children to create, maintain and respect boundaries in childhood will serve them well as they become adults. They will be comfortable with speaking up for themselves, and protecting themselves and their relationships with others.

I highly recommend reading Boundaries with your spouse to apply its principles to your family life. There are also additional titles available, including Boundaries in Marriage and Boundaries with Kids. (Links in this post are affiliate links.)