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Guiding and Setting Healthy Boundaries with Your Child

Guiding and Setting Healthy Boundaries with Your Child
Posted on December 27, 2023 by CHS

Boundaries: what exactly is a boundary, and why are they important? Boundaries are the space between you and another person, and the often unspoken rules of how you will treat each other. Setting healthy boundaries supports children in developing confidence for interacting with those around them, building healthy social and emotional coping skills, feeling safe, increasing self-esteem, and exercising their decision-making abilities. Below, we will discuss the importance of setting boundaries and offer some recommendations for establishing those boundaries within the scope of your family’s dynamic.

Setting boundaries is vital to staying mentally healthy. It helps children understand acceptable behavior and develop a sense of self-discipline. Children learn to navigate expectations and social norms when boundaries are clearly communicated, enhancing communication and cooperation. It also promotes a safe and secure environment for children. By setting limits, caretakers can protect their children from potential harm and dangerous situations. Lastly, it can foster a positive caretaker-child relationship, providing consistent guidance and support and helping to build trust and security. When a child feels secure and loved, they are more likely to develop healthy self-esteem and positive relationships with others.

Below, we will discuss a few examples of boundaries.

Physical: meaning your personal space and body. For example, a child should not be forced to greet another person a specific physical way (kissing on the cheek or providing a hug). Some children are not comfortable with being touched or touching, and it is important to teach them that they have control over their bodies. A great alternative is providing your child with other options they can feel comfortable with, like shaking a person’s hand, a fist bump, a wave, or simply acknowledging the other person by saying hello. You can also help your child be prepared with something to say if they need to enforce their boundary. For example, “Thank you, I will shake your hand instead.”

Emotional: providing a child with the language to understand that it is okay and safe to take a step back and reflect on how someone made you feel. For example, if their feelings were hurt, you can help your child recognize and talk about their emotions and reflect on what others might be feeling. This fosters emotional intelligence and understanding of their own emotions and those of others, which helps build empathy.


Timmy stated, “You are not my friend!” and pushed Gabriel, who fell on the floor.

This is a great opportunity to provide Gabriel with the language to identify his emotions (frustrated, mad, or angry), and help develop new strategies for handling similar situations, such as taking some space, asking for help, expressing that they did not like being pushed, and expressing how it felt to be pushed. By providing Gabriel an opportunity to be proactive and not reactive, we are teaching healthy and acceptable boundaries. Helping Gabriel decide what to do when someone is not respecting his feelings or boundaries will give him an opportunity to stand up for himself, boost his confidence, build healthy social and emotional coping skills, and maintain his safety. This does not happen instantaneously and does require practice. We recommend visiting the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) for free tips and tools.

Some strategies for establishing healthy boundaries are:

Clear and consistent communication: explaining the why and what is expected of them when certain boundaries are in place is important. It is also important to explain that other people’s boundaries can be different. Practice observing other people and labeling non-verbal signs of discomfort and pleasure (smiling, not smiling while taking a step away, etc.). This kind of activity teaches children how to see things from the perspective of another person and builds empathy.

Age-appropriate expectations and routines: consider a child’s developmental stage while establishing your expectations. Setting expectations too low can have a negative impact on their development and independence, but setting expectations too high can cause feelings of frustration and despair.

When deciding what boundaries are suitable for your child, consider their age, temperament, strengths, and challenges. Setting reasonable, brief, and doable goals can help your child grow. It is important to focus more on the learning experience than the consequences.

Set a good example: check your own body, tone, and facial expressions. Are the boundaries you and your child have established being respected?

Practice setting up boundaries: help your child plan what to do when someone is not respecting their feelings or boundaries. This will give your child the chance to practice standing up for themselves. Examples include statements like, “I’m not comfortable” or “I don’t feel safe.” If your child is very young, asking a trusted adult to help can be another option. The kid-friendly video for the song That’s a Boundary can be a helpful learning tool.

Acknowledge and praise their efforts: when your child establishes their boundaries, praise them for their efforts.

Boundaries help us determine what is okay and not okay when it comes to how you would like to be treated. Setting boundaries takes patience and practice. Take the time to reflect on what personal boundaries are important to you and your child, and work together to establish the next steps.

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