By Darian Young, Family Preservation Coordinator
Appropriate boundaries promote healthy development in children and are a necessity, alongside love and support. They allow children and adults to feel safe, have clear expectations and know what is acceptable. Some boundaries are easier than others to develop and enforce, while others will need updated over the course of time as children grow and mature.
These invisible lines and zones mark the direct point when something turns from comfortable to uncomfortable, from allowable to unallowable and from healthy to unhealthy. Visualize a property line or a sports field/court. Typically, people know these borders and the consequences that follow crossing or breaking them.
As with physical boundaries in the world, our personal ones are likewise important. Healthy boundaries should exist in several forms within our homes. When it comes to safety, we teach things like: we cannot play in the street because of traffic, and we don’t use our hands to hurt others when we are angry. When it comes to children’s bodies, healthy physical boundaries can manifest in teaching children that their body is their own, and if they are not comfortable giving an individual a hug or kiss, then they do not have to do so. Simultaneously, it is teaching children that same level of physical respect and consent for our bodies should be shown to others. We follow routines such as bedtime and bath time each day, which are examples that provide children security and can lessen the fear or anxiety that comes from the unknown or unexpected. Boundaries in the form of discipline occur when parents consistently enforce healthy consequences when rules are broken or not respected. For example, if a child is told not to do something such as throw a toy at a sibling, if the behavior repeats, the guardian implements consequence such as putting the child or toy in time out instead of only threatening and then ignoring the negative act. Emotional boundaries are similarly vital and can begin by prioritizing communication. Encouraging communication within a home makes children more aware of trusted individuals to talk to when strong feelings such as stress, anxiety, fear, sadness or anger bubble below the surface, or if something happens and they need help. Additionally, teaching children to stand up for themselves when others attempt to disrespect or take advantage of them can strengthen a child’s emotional boundaries.
Strong and healthy boundaries present throughout an individual’s childhood typically will lead to an adult with secure ones as well. That is not to say one cannot develop healthy boundaries on their own if they were absent during childhood, but it will make it more difficult to establish them after one’s self-identity is forged in adolescence.
Where to start if boundaries do not already exist within your family:
- Create simple routines for your children and family to follow each day. If routines are also a new concept to your family, start small, and choose one area or routine to work on first such as a set bedtime or curfew, or limited screen time.
- Announce the new routine or boundary through conversations with children, and consider posting the new expectation visibly as well. Be clear and exact when explaining it, and ensure you are committed to enforcing the boundary. Then, slowly begin implementing it one day at a time, working toward the new expectation. Model the boundary yourself as well, or model a similar boundary to show that as a family everyone can work towards the improvement.
Strengthening your family’s communication skills will simultaneously assist you in creating healthy boundaries. Carve out 10 minutes a day to intentionally talk to each child about their day, any issues they may be having, something that has made them happy recently, something they’re looking forward to, something you as a parent could do better for your child, etc. Strengthening communication can strengthen bonds and increase empathy, making both creating and implementing steady boundaries much easier.
If you or someone you know are involved with the child welfare system or are interested in the services FireLodge Children & Family Services Family Preservation Program can provide, give us a call at 405-878-4831 or visit us on Facebook @CPNFirelodge.