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11/30/23 blog post

setting boundaries with children

mom talking to young daughter

It’s important for all of us to set boundaries as well as respect the boundaries of those around us. This can sometimes be a hard concept for young children to understand. Establishing healthy boundaries helps guide appropriate behavior in relationships – which keeps both parties safe. We asked Dr. Mary Beth DeWitt, chief of psychology at Dayton Children’s, a couple of questions about setting boundaries with children.

why is boundary setting important for children?

Boundaries go both ways; learning to set your own and respecting those of others. It's not only recognizing our own needs and setting boundaries but always being respectful and understanding of the needs of others. This often requires self-awareness, strong communication and assertiveness, and requires mutual trust and respect, all of which develop over time.

how can children learn to set boundaries?

Most children think about the world through their own eyes but eventually learn to take the perspective of others, and to also learn that rules work both ways. Younger kids learn best by experience and watching others. As parents, we can coach our children to:

  • Take the perspective of others
  • Process how they might feel
  • Process how the child might feel if something they saw happened to them too

Parents can model appropriate behaviors. Most kids take their lead from parents; embrace and allow interactions with a diverse population to help them learn about other perspectives and listen when children tell us if things are not ok with them. If they are afraid of something, listen, and try to support them rather than pushing them. It's a balancing act between encouraging and pushing too hard, but we must listen to our kids and hear their words. 

Kids learn from a variety of ways, so music, books, demonstration and direct teaching are all great ways! Most children like to learn through music and play, so songs can be nice avenues to explore when teaching new concepts. There is a fun Doggyland affirmation song on YouTube. The song allows some concrete tools and words to use to set boundaries. It's a good start for conversation and practice. 

Start practicing teaching your kids how to set boundaries by using these tips and the song mentioned above.

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Mary Beth DeWitt, PhD.

division chief behavioral health, psychology
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