Healthy Boundaries
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Helping Your Child Set Healthy Boundaries
October 2022 

For most parents setting boundaries for young kids’ behavior is second nature: No hitting. Don’t interrupt. We don’t grab toys out of other kids’ hands.

But as they get older, and social interaction gets more complex, it’s not enough to just learn the rules. They need to learn to set boundaries for themselves and respect those of others. 

As parents, it’s important to help our kids learn how to set boundaries. This can be difficult, but it’s a valuable skill that will serve them well throughout their lives. Setting boundaries teaches children how to be in healthy relationships now and in the future. Below are some tips on how to teach your child about boundaries.

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What is a Boundary?
Boundaries are the rules of a relationship that guide the way two people interact, including things that are expected, okay, and not okay to say or do. A relationship needs boundaries to ensure that two people have their feelings and needs respected. For children, boundaries are especially important because they are still learning about themselves and the world around them. 
Boundaries  give kids a sense of control over their lives, which can be especially helpful during times of stress or change.

Learning to establish boundaries is a critical part of human development. Parents can discuss with children that setting boundaries teaches other people how to treat them and they have a right to be treated the way they  would like.

When children understand boundaries and feel comfortable enforcing them, they are more likely to grow into happy, healthy adults

Physical Boundaries
Physical boundaries are the limits we set on physical contact with others. They help us to feel comfortable and safe, and to show respect for other people. Boundaries can be different for each person, and can change depending on the situation. For example, someone might feel comfortable hugging a friend, but not a stranger. 
Regardless of age, everyone has a right to protect their body and personal space. If your child doesn’t want to hug a relative or anyone else, they have a right to say no and expect the wish to be respected. Making children dismiss their own feelings can lead to confusion and self-doubt, as well as  devaluing their own needs and feelings later in life.

Help children to read the cues that people give them and listen to their own inner voice that tells them when they feel uncomfortable with the closeness of another person. 

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Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries help everyone to accept responsibility for their own actions and feelings. Some examples of emotional boundaries include saying no when appropriate, expecting respect in interactions and not taking the blame for someone else's actions. When children are taught to have dignity and respect for themselves setting emotional boundaries will come easier. 
Children need to understand that it’s not okay to hurt other people’s feelings on purpose. They also need to learn how to cope with their own emotions in a healthy way.

Allow space for your child to express their displeasure. Some parents believe that when children voice their opinions that they are being disrespectful but that is not always the case. You can teach your child how to express their emotions in a constructive way. Giving your kids permission to sort out their feelings, will give them permission to set limits and boundaries with friends.

 Setting Friendship Boundaries
Talk to your children about what it means to be a good friend. Help your kids recognize actions of a good, healthy friendship and those of an unhealthy, destructive friendship. People who reject, bully, tease or disrespect your child are not good friends. Those who accept your children for who they are, treat them with respect and truly care are good friends. Once your children understand this concept let them decide what their boundaries will be.
After you’ve helped your child to set their boundaries, it’s important for them to advocate for themselves when other kids are being pushy, aggressive or just thoughtless. Give your child the chance to practice standing up for themselves.
Help them make a plan for what to do when someone isn’t respecting their feelings or boundaries. Show them how to communicate their boundaries to others as clearly as possible. This will help to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding.

For example, you could ask, “What are some ways you could let Jeremy know you don’t like it when he hugs you without asking?” Go over some simple phrases your child can use to advocate for themselves such as “Please stop.” or “I don’t like that.” 
Let your child know that you’re there for them and that you support their decision to set boundaries. This will give them the strength to stick to them even when it’s difficult.

When your children are older, this will also be important when they choose a romantic partner, so it’s a good idea to begin putting these boundaries in place at a young age.
Role Model
Parents can also model their own boundaries to help their child understand and respect boundaries. For instance, teaching them not to interrupt you and another adult talking -or teaching them to be respectful while you are on an important phone call. These are good teachable moments where you can share your feelings in a nonjudgemental way and help identify a preferred outcome. "Instead of interrupting, why don't you come and hold my hand so I know you want to join the conversation."

A good way for parents to model healthy emotional boundaries is to take ownership of their own feelings. Children should not feel responsible for the emotions of their parents or feel burdened thinking that their normal behavior can “make” their parents feel a certain way or vice versa. Parents do not want their children‘s emotions to be enmeshed with their own. Quite the opposite: everyone should take ownership for their own feelings

Respecting Boundaries
While it’s important to be able to separate yourself from others, it’s also important to be thoughtful, considerate and respectful of the boundaries that others have set for themselves.  Respect is a two-way street, and appreciating the boundaries others have set for themselves is as important as setting boundaries for oneself.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that everyone has different boundaries. What works for one person might not work for another. The most important thing is to encourage your child to listen to their instincts and to set boundaries that make them feel comfortable and respected.

Parents You Are Doing Great!

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You try. You make mistakes. You try some more. That‘s all you can do.

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Resources and Sources
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