Mommy, I know you're in the bathroom but look at my karate chop!

How to Teach Physical Boundaries in Child Development

by Melissa Willets

Your son lifts up your skirt in the grocery store and you pull it down and laugh nervously, hoping that nobody saw your unmentionables. While this is an uncomfortable situation, how you react to your tot's boundary pushing is key in teaching him what is appropriate and what isn't. A toddler's natural curiosity will entice him to touch things he shouldn't, and his lack of self restraint will cause him to act out in ways that are unacceptable. You do not have to live in fear that your devilish darling will reveal your underwear to fellow shoppers the next time you go out! It is time to take control.

Put Safety First

Of course, teaching your tot physical boundaries is not only about sparing your embarrassment; a child who does not respect the space of others can injure someone, little or big. If your kiddo is hitting, kicking or otherwise physically hurting another person, remove him from the scene of his crime before attempting to explain why his actions are inappropriate.

Use Transgressions as Teaching Experiences

When your little one gets physical at a play date, explain to him why his behavior is a no-go. "We don't hit." Be sure to highlight why the behavior is wrong, although your combative cutie may not fully understand. Say something like, "You are hurting Tommy." Each time your tot acts out physically, address his actions. "Please stop touching your brother's face. He doesn't like it." You don't want to be a nag, but if you let his behavior go unchecked, he will not understand the concept of keeping his hands to himself.

Redirect his Behavior offers this great tip for redirecting your little one's physical urges -- "Give him plenty of positive outlets for his energy through physical play and exercise." If your tot channels his physicality into running, playing, climbing and other organized activities, he will be less likely to act out at in playgroup or test the boundaries.

Teach by Example

If you do not want your aggressive angel to solve his problems by hitting, don't spank him when disciplining. If you want your curious cutie to give you privacy in the bathroom, afford him the same consideration, if possible.

Realize That Boundary Testing Is Unavoidable

As points out, "Highly active, aggressive children who push and shove usually are just as 'normal' as quiet, shy ones who never seem to act out their thoughts and feelings." So although you are trying to teach your little limit pusher to respect physical boundaries, it is natural for him to keep testing you and those around him. Perhaps those skirt-lifting incidents will lessen, but your kiddo has a distance to go before he fully understands the concepts of personal space and empathy for the feelings of others.

About the Author

Melissa Willets has been writing about parenting, pregnancy and "all things mom" since 2009. She has contributed to many websites, including and

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images