Setting healthy boundaries with your child(ren) can be difficult. When our children are born, they are almost entirely helpless and dependent on us. We get used to responding to their every need and putting aside our own needs to do so. But at some point, we need to realize that it’s ok to set some boundaries.
It’s ok to stop letting your toddler’s demands determine your actions 24/7. It’s time to set some boundaries and take back control of your own personal space and limits.
How We’ve Been Misled…
Recently, in an online parenting group I’m a part of, I asked for advice on helping my (almost) two year old understand personal space and boundaries.
He had been on this kick of climbing all over me literally all.day.long. Like I could barely even go to the bathroom without him throwing a fit that I wasn’t holding him. And I was totally touched out.
Many of the responses I got were super helpful and there were some great tips offered! But one response came that kind of got me thinking, maybe some of us have been misled. Maybe we’ve let ourselves believe some lies about what it looks like to be a good mom.
Lie #1 – Caring for our children means sacrificing everything, even our own wellbeing
This mom shared that her child climbs all over her constantly and often even needs to sleep on her. She says that the only “me time” she gets is when the children are napping or having quiet time and that, “It gets tiring…[but] I do my best to meet my kids’ needs even when it is difficult for me.”
Somewhere along the line, this momma, and maybe others like her, have believed that loving and caring for our kids means sacrificing everything that’s good for us. And that’s simply not true.
The reason so many moms (myself included sometimes) get burnt out, touched out, overwhelmed, exhausted, and just can’t seem to get it together sometimes is because we’re often trying to be everything to everyone all the time. We were never meant to do that.
As humans, we need not just personal space, but our own identity and life outside of just being a mom or a wife or whatever else we might be to someone else.
We need our own space and time to enjoy the things we love. It’s not healthy for us or anyone else to constantly put aside our own needs in order to cater to the desires of someone else.
Yes, of course we should care for our children’s needs. Absolutely. I’m not suggesting that you just tune them out or say, “sorry you’re on your own kid!” What I am suggesting is that it’s ok to also meet our own needs.
Our kids will be ok if we don’t say, “how high” every time they say, “jump.”
Lie #2 – You have to meet every want in order to build trust with your child and keep them from making poor decisions
In the same response, this momma shared that the reason she doesn’t set more boundaries with her child in this area is because she doesn’t want her child to “take that energy to someone else.”
But here’s the problem I’m seeing with that. When you, as a mom, aren’t setting healthy boundaries with your child(ren), what are you actually teaching them?
If they aren’t learning how to set healthy boundaries from watching our interactions with people, them included, they won’t learn it anywhere else either.
When we fail at setting healthy boundaries in front of and even with our children, we are failing them and leaving a huge gaping hole in their education about the world.
Letting our children set our boundaries for us (or lack thereof) sets a precedent for how they should let others treat them. If they see that we go out of our way to make others happy, even when it’s clear we’re not happy, they will grow to believe that’s the healthy thing to do.
So how does that play out in the real world? Well, how about when your daughter’s boyfriend pressures her to have sex. Or when your generous son is taken advantage of by their so called friend who’s always wanting something else.
Listen, moms, when you fail at setting healthy boundaries with your child(ren) for your own wellbeing, you’re teaching your kids that someone else’s preference is more important than their wellbeing.
Lie #3 – Being ultra responsive to your child’s needs and wants builds a stronger bond
“But I don’t want them to think I don’t love them or that I don’t care!” Yep, I’ve said that myself before. But that line of thinking is born from our own fears, not from reality.
Your child isn’t going to feel unloved if you tell them Mommy’s touched out and needs a break.
If anything, they will soon learn that Mommy has enough respect for herself and them to know her limits and set boundaries in place so that everyone can enjoy each other all the more.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had enough, that’s when my temper starts to flare. I get more irritable, more cranky, I yell more, I’m short with the kids (and my husband) and I’m generally not much fun to be around.
So which is better? Knowing your own limits and not letting anyone (even your kids) push you so far past them that you just can’t cope, or setting healthy boundaries with your child(ren) that allow everyone to feel safe and loved?
Look, I know there are those of you out there who will say, “Well, it’s not about you.” Yea, you’re right, sort of. But really, raising kids in a healthy environment is a little about me.
If I’m not healthy (physically, mentally, and emotionally) then my kids won’t be either. And that’s far more important to me than them feeling annoyed or upset occasionally because I set a limit.
It’s ok for our kids to be angry, hurt, sad, or frustrated. And it’s ok for us to acknowledge and validate those feelings. But empathizing with our child(ren)’s feelings doesn’t mean we have to give in to their desires.
Of course you should meet the basic needs of your child – make sure they are adequately fed, they’re clothed and healthy, but beyond that, the rest is subjective. You don’t have to feel obligated to give your child everything they want.
Lie #4 – Meeting their every need is good for them
Actually, being ultra responsive to their needs could have some negative consequences for your child as well.
First, when you always respond right away to every request, your child never learns how to wait well. They tend to lack patience and may become more and more demanding as time goes on.
The more a person receives, the more they want. That’s just human nature. And feeding that beast won’t serve your child well in the real world.
Second, doing everything for your child means they aren’t learning to do it themselves. It’s so valuable for our children to feel self sufficient and capable. It’s good for their self-esteem, their sense of value and worthiness and it’s good for your family as a whole.
If your child knows that they can get you to do anything they want just by asking (or whining or begging or saying they can’t do it even though you know they can) they will take advantage of that.
The only thing your child needs when he constantly begs for extra attention are the skills to be ok without you by his side all the time.
Third, kids know (maybe better than anyone) when we’re not sincere in our words and actions. When we constantly give in to their demands even when we don’t want to, we don’t do it cheerfully. No one is as great at hiding their emotions as they think they are – especially from those closest to them.
Have you ever received a text from a loved one and you could just tell they were not in a good mood? Their words, in and of themselves, didn’t give that away, but you could just sense it.
When children sense that we aren’t being sincere, and they will, they don’t immediately think, “Oh, Mommy’s tired or she’s just had a bad day.” They don’t assume we just need a break.
Instead, they may very likely interpret our lack of enthusiasm at being close to them as a statement that something is wrong with them.
But if we take the time to establish clear and firm limits ahead of time with our children, it’s much easier to remind them that it’s not them that’s a problem, it’s just that these are the limits we’ve set because we all need a break sometimes. And that’s ok.
So What Can You Do Instead To Start Setting Healthy Boundaries With Your Child(ren)?
If you’re ready to break away from the lies we’ve believed about creating personal space boundaries with your kids, now is the time!
It’s not as difficult as it might seem and, in the end, it will be better for everyone!
Know your limits
In order to set effective and consistent boundaries that are helpful for everyone, you really have to know yourself and what you can tolerate…and what you can’t.
Take some time to think through your limits as a person. Write down what you come up with and use that as a guideline for establishing some boundaries in your family.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Are there specific times of day that you find yourself getting touched out quicker and easier? (Do you need to decompress right after work? Do you need a 30 minute break each evening?)
- Are there certain activities you have a lower tolerance for? (i.e. Maybe you’re ok with cuddling but tickling is out. Maybe you’re ok with some rough-housing, but not being climbed on.)
- What are the signs that you’re starting to reach your limits and you need a break?
Once you’ve figured out what your limits are, it’s time to start setting healthy boundaries with your child(ren) and your partner.
Get everyone together and talk about how you’re feeling. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting or anything. You can just have a conversation over dinner or chat during a long car trip.
Be sure you use “I” statements. For example, say things to your partner like, “I’ve noticed that in the late afternoon I really start to feel touched out from the kids climbing on me all day and it would be really helpful for me to have a short break.”
You could also say to the kids, “Hey, I really love when we get to cuddle and I so look forward to it! But I feel disrespected when you climb on me while I’m working. Can we make a deal that we can have 10 minutes of snuggle time for every hour that I spend working?”
Make sure everyone in the family is on board with and clear on the new boundaries. It’s important to address everyone’s needs here, not just your own. There may be some compromises to make, but as long as everyone feels good about it, that’s ok!
Be firm and consistent
Once you’ve established boundaries, it’s important to stick to them. It sends mixed (and confusing) messages when you allow certain things sometimes but not other times. Stay consistent, even when it’s hard.
The first days, maybe even weeks, after you’ve established these boundaries are going to be the toughest. Your kids have been used to having you at their disposal whenever, wherever, and however they want. It will be a struggle for them to fully grasp the new rules at first.
Give them (and yourself) some grace. But don’t bend.
Over time everyone will understand and appreciate the boundaries and you will see plenty of positive change in your family! Obviously there are times and places when it’s ok to forget the rules for a bit.
I know that in my house, when one of my boys is sick (particularly my youngest) they need lots of extra snuggles and attention. And it’s ok to give it to them! Just don’t let it become a habit that continues even after they are no longer sick.
Always make room for self care
I can’t overstate this. Self care is important. If you want to be your best for your kids, you have to take care of yourself.
But in contrast to the way self-care is portrayed in the public eye, it’s not about being greedy or self-serving or self-indulgent.
It’s not about being completely consumed with making sure all of your desires are met, even if it means being unhelpful or harmful to other people.
Self-care is, in its simplest form, the practice of making sure you take care of your basic needs in order to live a healthy and joyful life.
It’s also important for your kids to see you practicing self care. If they never see you taking care of yourself, how will they learn to take care of themselves?
Caring for yourself and caring for your family are not mutually exclusive.
It can be tough to meet all of your child’s needs all the time. After all, we’re imperfect humans and we have our own needs too! Don’t let your fear of hurting your child lead you to compromise your own wellbeing in order to make them happy.
It’s ok, and even healthy, to have personal boundaries and to enforce them even with your children. Set a good example for your kids of what it looks like to have healthy boundaries in relationships and you will find, over time, that you and your children are all better for it in the end!