Talk with your child often to build his sense of self-worth.

Steps to Setting Personal Boundaries for Children

by Julie Christensen

You want your little one to be kind to others, but you also want her to learn to stand up for herself and say no to anything she's not comfortable with. How do you teach little ones personal boundaries? Teaching kids to set personal boundaries isn't a one-lesson activity. Instead, your little one will learn this lesson over time, with continuous mentoring from you.

1. Set an Example

The simplest way to teach kids personal boundaries is by maintaining them in your own life. If you maintain a healthy balance of treating others with respect while demanding respect for yourself, kids will likely do the same. Got a conflict with a co-worker or a neighbor? Let your child see you handling it respectfully, but assertively. Talk with your little one about setting boundaries. Say something like, "It didn't make me feel good when (the neighbor, co-worker) talked to me rudely. I asked her to stop and we worked it out. It's OK for you to stand up for yourself, too."

2. Parenting Philosophy

Remember the old expression, "Children should be seen, not heard"? This antiquated attitude did little to teach kids personal boundaries because it negated children's rights and needs. Instead, take the view that children are little people, capable of deep emotions and thoughts, just as adults are. Teach your child to trust his intuition. If a person or situation makes her feel uncomfortable, he has a right to speak up or leave. When you treat your child with respect, he learns that he's a competent human being who deserves to have personal boundaries.

3. Direct Instruction

Preschoolers are old enough to begin to understand more about personal boundaries. Offer some direct instruction to help your little one grasp this concept. For example, maybe your child has a friend who constantly pushes, shoves and grabs toys. Teach your little one to calmly stand up for herself. Teach her to say something like, "I don't like it when you grab toys. Please stop now." What happens if that doesn't work? Teach your child to walk away or go get an adult. Physical boundaries are another important thing to teach. Teach your child that her body is her own. She shouldn't show it to anyone else or allow anyone else to touch it. If anyone does, she needs to tell you immediately. Some kids are very affectionate. Teach your child that we save hugs and kisses for people we know very well, such as family members and friends.

4. Practice

Invite playmates over so your child can practice his new-found skills. Don't hover, but stay close by and intervene if you sense a conflict brewing. Help your child problem solve how to share or take turns. If a playmate consistently bullies your child, limit contact or avoid that child altogether. Kids need to learn early that they don't have to tolerate bullying behavior.

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