Updated: Mar 18, 2020
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Discussing boundaries both inside the counseling session and in your daily interactions can be a difficult task. For many, setting boundaries can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable, and enforcing those boundaries can feel almost impossible. When you hear the word boundaries most assume a negative meaning such as to build walls or to isolate oneself, however when applied accurately boundaries are one of the most helpful skills we can teach our children.
Boundaries let those we interact with know what we are comfortable with and what we are willing to accept.
Teaching children to communicate their boundaries may seem contrary to the notion of wanting our children to follow rules simply for the sake of rules. After all, by teaching children to establish and communicate boundaries, we are giving them the strength to stand up for themselves and say what is outside of their comfort zone. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t enjoyed the sting of a headstrong child determined to do things their way and it may feel like we are handing over power for them to use against us in the future. However, the fact is that we are building stronger more sustainable individuals who will enter adulthood with the knowledge of their own boundaries and the strength to stand up for their convictions.
Boundaries for your Children
Most parents would agree that children need to have rules instilled that will help them develop into successful adults later in life. While some may look at rules and boundaries as constraining, most researchers agree that properly established boundaries help children to feel safe and to make sense of their environment. As parents it is our responsibility to establish these boundaries so that our children know where they stand from day to day. We are charged with establishing boundaries both with and for them until they reach an age where they can take over the care of their own boundaries. By using open communication with your children about your own boundaries you let them know what actions and behaviors you deem acceptable for them but also in the world around you. When your child sees you taking an assertive stance with an individual who has challenged your boundaries, you are teaching your child how to stand up for yourself and to communicate your boundaries to others. This modeled skill may also come in handy as your child tackles the often-difficult navigation of childhood and potential bullying scenarios. In counseling, your child will be challenged with looking within themselves to acknowledge which actions or situations take them outside of their window of tolerance. While we may not always have the ability to remove ourselves from a troubling situation, being aware of its potential to trigger us emotionally makes us more prepared for the emotional response.
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries come in many forms and can be applicable to any area of our lives. Whether we have named them or not, each of us has a limit, an imaginary line that we do not want crossed emotionally, physically and socially. This may present as a difficulty having your personal space challenged, or possibly finding the strength to tell a friend or loved one that they have hurt your feelings by crossing an emotional line. You may feel uncomfortable in large groups or in social settings where you are unfamiliar. The examples are limitless, and I am positive you can easily identify a few of your own. The problem, however, is that children do not always have an innate ability to communicate their feelings or comfort levels with us. Often, parents feel empowered to make these decisions for their children without stopping to consider how their decisions may impact their child. As the parent, we often feel we know better than our child having had the experience of many more years of life. But the truth is our children are not us, they are their own individual with their own windows of tolerance and our decision may take them outside of that window. If you recall last month, we discussed attunement and here we have an opportunity to circle back. We may not give our 5-year old the final decision on whether to join dance class, however it is our job to attune with our child, to be aware of their emotional response to the class and evaluate if it is a good fit. Ultimately, our child will let us know if they are not comfortable in the class, however in the language of a 5-year old, this will likely present as a tantrum or refusal to go into class unless you go with them.
By providing our children with the language to communicate their needs with us, we can help them form their boundaries and give name to situations that take them outside of their window of tolerance.
B'well therapist Amber Gray works with children & parents to promote true healing, sustainable growth, and healthy families. She currently has evening and weekend availability and accepts CareFirst Insurance. You can contact and read more about Amber here.