Teaching children healthy personal boundaries can be challenging. It is something we need to model for them, throughout their early years and on in to the teenage years.
(You can check out a FREE boundary exercise HERE!)
Healthy personal boundaries are reflected across a number of areas . This includes personal space, knowing our limitations with giving time or money, consent and respect for our body and an awareness of keeping ourselves safe.
As parents we need to be able to reflect on our own personal boundaries. Do we feel secure and confident in ourselves to maintain healthy boundaries in relation to our needs?
As complex and grown up as personal boundaries may seem they are actually something we can begin teaching to our children from a very young age.
Healthy personal boundaries start by feeling confident in meeting our own needs and understanding how we feel and what our limitations are. We can model this by talking about our feelings and emotions with our children. Then we can encourage them to express how they feel as well.
“I feel listened to”
Healthy personal boundaries come from feeling safe, secure and having a sense of autonomy. For our children this develops from independence, having mastery over themselves and the ability to make choices.
Good self-worth, self-esteem and resilience grow from a foundation of “I can do it!”. Children develop belief in themselves from having to persist at self-directed tasks.
This is something they learn from a bit of struggle and persistence, such as putting on their welly boots themselves. As parents we often do things which make our lives quicker and easier. Allow your child a bit of time to do a task for themselves, such as washing their own hands, and then celebrate their success.
It could be from choosing their own clothes to wear and being able to do so without fear of judgement. It can be easy to rush to always fix things for them but this actually has a negative impact on confidence and a child’s belief in their abilities.
I respect my friend’s needs
At an early age children begin to see others as different from themselves. They begin to show very early stages of empathy, and can recognise when another child or person is hurt. You can support this development by modelling compassion and empathy too!
If they are being too boisterous or rough when playing you can say “Ow look that hurts daddy (or mummy or friend etc) they feel sad, we must be more gentle when we play”.
If they come home from school and say a friend was mean to them you can then model how to confidently say no and put forward different scenarios. It’s important in this instance to not join them in the drama though. Calmly explain how you would be manage the situation.
By understanding and respecting my own needs I am better able to understand and respect the needs of others
It can be hard work to keep modelling good personal boundaries. With older children and teens it may be always ensuring you knock on their bedroom door. However you should also expect them to knock on your bedroom door too rather than come rushing in!
Personal privacy is also an area which becomes more important as children grow older. This includes privacy of their bodies. You may have come from a liberal household, however empowering children to have control over their bodies is very important. This includes understanding that no one can touch their genitals without permission.
Learning to take turns in conversation is another area you can model and practice, for example a very big busy household may always talk over the top of each other (guilty!). With younger children you can play games about taking turns with toys. You can also model empathy “he feels sad you have taken his toy”
I deserve to be treated well
Healthy boundaries help our children to build healthy relationships built on mutual respect, emotional intelligence and empathy. By teaching our children about healthy personal boundaries we give them the tools to grow in to adulthood feeling more connected to others, but importantly more connected to themselves.