Boundaries and Saying No to Your Child: Are Required Parenting Skills
As a child mental health specialist, I often see parents struggling to set boundaries with their children. They may feel guilty about saying no or worry that their child will be upset with them (they are supposed to be able to get upset with you). It's important to remember that setting boundaries is essential for your child's healthy development.
Boundaries define who we are.
Brenè Brown states, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” This includes our children.
Boundaries help children to learn about themselves and the world around them. They learn what is and is not acceptable behavior and how to respect others' space, presence, and material items. Boundaries also give children a sense of control over their lives, promoting a feeling of safety and security.
What are some examples of boundaries?
Physical: Awareness of physical needs such as eating, exercising, and rest. Personal space for yourself and those of your children. As well as what is or is not appropriate around touch.
Intellectual: Respect for your own and someone else's ideas. To have an awareness of appropriate and respectful discussions. To be able to agree to disagree.
Emotional: Respecting each other's feelings. Your feelings and your child’s feelings are both VALID. How we communicate those feelings is where the boundary setting occurs.
Intellectual: Your opinion, beliefs, morals, and values are your own. Shame is not.
Environment & Material: This includes setting limits on what you will share and with whom. Protecting your own resources and possessions. As well as what environments you choose to be present in.
Time: Recognizing the value of your time and not allowing yourself to be overworked. This way your time is prioritized and respected.
Here are some of the benefits of setting boundaries with children:
Boundaries help children feel safe and secure. When children know what is expected, they feel in control leading to less anxiety, stress, and depression.
They learn there are limits. This important life skill will help them get along with others in school, work, and personal relationships. A child’s job is to push the limits, and in this way, they learn who and what is managing their safety.
It helps children develop self-discipline. Children learn to control their impulses when they follow the rules and limits. This is essential for learning how to delay gratification and make good choices. (Remember our talk about boredom?)
They can develop a sense of self-worth. When children know their parents/caregivers love and respect them, even when they say no, they develop a healthy sense of self-worth and belonging. This means they are less likely to feel entitled or manipulative or strive to prove who they are by challenging others' boundaries.
Of course, setting boundaries with children is not easy at times. They know exactly which buttons and boundaries to push and when!
They know because they FEEL uncertainty, lack of consistency, or lack of safety at that moment with that person. They will push back and test your limits. It is essential to be consistent, firm, patient, and kind.
Failing to set boundaries leaves your child open to feeling anxious, demanding your attention, engaging in more arguments, and pushing the limits harder. If you give in, you have taught them all they have to do is keep pushing; they just have to wear you down so you will say yes, and change your mind or do something different.
"No" is a boundary that everyone must learn.
You are not your child’s friend; you are their parent. Saying “no,” is expected and required of you as a parent. Now, there are ways to say no without saying no. We learn about these in depth in the Playful Wisdom Foundations program, and in our other Parenting Courses, by learning A.C.T.
Acknowledge the feeling: You really want a cookie right now.
Communicate a limit: We don't eat cookies right before dinner.
Target an alternative: Would you like some apple slices instead?"
Saying no is essential for your child to hear - FROM YOU.
Yes, my children have heard me say “no”; however, it is almost always when safety is a concern, and they know this. All the other times, they hear directives, options, and choices, empowering them to learn responsibility, problem-solving, decision-making, respect, and patience. Yes, no one is perfect; I have yelled “no” at my children in frustration (I have feelings too). In general, though, they would say they don’t hear it often.
Accepting no and saying no is a valuable boundary for children and teens to learn about their world.
I want my children to support and love other humans, AND I want them to put themselves first. Thus, they must learn about boundaries from me in verbal and actionable ways.
Because "boundaries are a prerequisite for compassion and empathy," states Brenè Brown.
Our children deserve to have boundaries; otherwise, their ability to learn to be kind, aware, helpful, and respectful adults is limited.
Seek support if you struggle with setting boundaries with your child or teen.
I, too, am a perfectly imperfect parent with you, AND I'm here to help.
If you have a question or a comment, post it below.