It’s true that many of us didn’t learn how to set healthy boundaries as children. Because of this, a lot of adults today often have a negative association with the word “boundaries” itself. We might assume having to set boundaries implies that there’s something wrong with a relationship, or that when someone expresses their limits to us, it’s because we did something wrong.
The truth though, is that it’s really the opposite. Learning to set and establish healthy boundaries empowers us to share what makes us feel the most loved and connected. When children are encouraged and supported in communicating their feelings and needs, they can determine what feels best for them and their own bodies. With this strong foundation of trust and respect, children are better able to build positive and healthy relationships.
To dig deeper into the details about all things boundary-setting, we asked Licensed School Counselor and Slumberkins Co-Founder, Kelly Oriard, to share the what, the why, and everything in between. Scroll on for her insights!
What does it mean to have healthy boundaries?
“Having healthy boundaries means being able to tune into yourself and your own needs first. You feel fully validated in establishing these boundaries and are able to communicate them to others. When you do so, you can show up as your most comfortable, authentic, and best self in your relationships.”
What do boundaries look like for kids?
“First and foremost, it’s important to understand WHERE there are boundaries. This may start with physical boundaries, and getting familiar with the idea of respecting people’s personal space. Another part of this is learning the difference between people we know and people we don’t know. As caregivers, it’s important that we let children know that their needs are valid. Children have a right to say what they need and want in terms of feelings, boundaries, and space.”
How will learning to set boundaries help kids when they grow up?
“Learning to set boundaries helps kids know that their feelings and experiences are seen and understood. As they get older, children will be able to confidently set boundaries with their loved ones and practice boundary-setting in future relationships.”
Why do people have such a hard time setting boundaries?
“Historically, children’s feelings and needs haven’t always been valued. Many of us grew up learning that we had to do things to please others. Receiving this message early on makes it harder to set healthy boundaries because we still worry about making people happy. It’s hard to re-learn these deep lessons.”
What would you say to someone who thinks that setting boundaries is rude or mean?
“That person likely learned this as a child, but it’s something they can take another look at now. There are lots of healthy and loving ways to set boundaries with others. Setting boundaries is a way we can show kindness and love to ourselves. What’s more, it helps us teach others how to show us love.”
What are some ways we can teach healthy boundaries to our kids?
“Modeling healthy boundaries with our children and in our homes is a great first start. This can look like saying “no” to playtime or having conversations with your partner about sharing the load. Taking care of ourselves and emphasizing that each person’s feelings and needs are valued is the best way to teach boundaries. Helping children learn that their bodies are theirs and that they are in charge of who touches their body is important, too. Having children ask others before giving hugs or kisses can be a good place to start. Encourage extended family members to ask first before giving your child a hug, and respecting that child’s wishes if they say no.”
Are there situations where it’s actually not safe or could be difficult for children to set boundaries?
“Yes, absolutely. There are unfortunately still many instances where children are not safe to speak up and share their feelings with others due to inequities in our world. Children who experience abuse or neglect may not be safe to speak up to the unsafe adults in their lives. Children who belong to systematically marginalized communities also may not be safe to speak up to adults who may retaliate or put them in danger. Children are wise and know when they feel safe to express themselves, and in many cases their experiences within their environments shape their understanding of when and when not to speak up for themselves. There are many reasons why parents are fearful to teach their children that it’s okay to set boundaries with others.”
What would you say to parents whose children are not always safe to speak their mind or set healthy boundaries?
“First, I would share my deep empathy for how difficult it is to parent in a world with systems designed to keep some children safe and not others. The pain of that is enormous. Caregivers must trust their intuition about how to parent their children and what the best messages are to send them, based on their own experiences. What I will say is there are still likely ways to empower the inner world of a child, even if you are teaching them to navigate the world to stay safe. Teaching children that their inner world matters, their feelings matter and their opinions are valid is important and can help them feel whole and valued at the deepest level.”
“Lynx’s book highlights the various ways in which children’s needs, feelings, and physical boundaries can be respected by others, and how children can show respect to others. It’s a simple story that we hope will make a big impact and start some great discussions between children and their caregivers.”
At Slumberkins, it’s our mission to raise the next generation of caring, confident, and resilient children. A huge and important part of that is supporting kids so that they feel empowered to express their feelings and needs. Because when we learn to set our own boundaries and respect others’ limits, we can better communicate, connect, love, and show up for everyone in our lives. Ourselves included!