Do you know the difference between rules vs. boundaries? Do your kids? There’s overlap, because many rules are in place to help us respect others and keep them safe. However, setting boundaries is a way to limit behavior in our relationships with others. The key concept is a working relationship, where some behaviors can’t be dictated by rules, but they are overbearing or insensitive. This is an area kids need to begin understanding early on. First, they start with rules but as they grasp the relational aspect of the black and white rule, they can begin understanding the nuances of boundaries.
Setting boundaries is a way to limit behavior in our RELATIONSHIPS with others.
Boundaries are needed in all relationships in life, with strangers, friends, acquaintances, and family members. The Bible has a lot to say about the way we behave in relationships. Luke 6:31 says, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” We certainly don’t want our kids to be overbearing and trample on others, nor do we want our kids to be trampled on.
Four tips on teaching kids boundaries.
First, set the boundary. Keep the conversation short and to the point. For example, maybe you’ve noticed your kids have a habit of bossing others around and not letting others have a turn making decisions. Sit the kids down and tell them, “after you’ve chosen an activity, let everyone else have a turn to choose one, then it can be your turn again.” Rather than using a lot of “don’ts”, use positive language about what should be done.
Second, explain the reason for the boundary, that it has a purpose to maintain healthy relationships. Here’s an explanation for the boundary we just mentioned. You can say, “We want to be respectful of each other and consider others more than ourselves. That’s the heart attitude God tells us to have.”
Third, set consequences for when the heart behind the boundary is disregarded, even if the rule hasn’t been specifically broken. If you don’t, the work will not only be useless, but they’ll get the impression that breaking relational boundaries has no consequences. When you notice your kids practicing boundaries, encourage them with something like, “I noticed you waited patiently for your turn, great job!” It may be necessary to set consequences such as, “if you don’t respect your sister’s turn, you won’t get a turn next time.” But for the most part, explaining the relational consequences and helping the child to have empathy for others is far more important than stressing rules.
An important boundary to teach kids is to not interrupt others. When you are talking with someone, teach your children to let you know they need to say something by gently putting their hand on your arm. Put your hand on their hand to acknowledge them but finish what you are saying or let the other person finish before saying to them “excuse me please” and then turn to the child. This teaches the child self-control and the concept that there are boundaries with our speech. Of course, demonstration is the best teacher. If you feel free to interrupt children, they’ll get the idea that if one is more powerful in a relationship, respect isn’t necessary. Look for opportunities to place your hand on the child’s arm in a polite way so they understand how it feels, versus having your arm shaken and your name shouted.
Finally, encourage kids to set their own boundaries. Kids are learning to handle their emotions and develop social skills. When kids learn how to set and follow boundaries while they’re young, they develop the skills they need for boundaries in relationships as teenagers and young adults. A friend told me that her parents taught her it wasn’t rude or impolite to set boundaries because they protected her and those around her. So, as a kid, when she didn’t want a hug, she said no thank you. When she needed to decline an invitation because it would cause her to be too busy, she was taught it’s okay to say no there too. When she got older and started dating, it was so much easier to set relationship boundaries because she was already practiced. As kids begin to enter jobs and romantic relationships, the boundary skills they practiced as kids will help them tremendously.
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