These Are The Most Important Limits To Teach Our Children – But It’s Not Always Easy

Sometimes the most difficult part of raising a toddler or preschooler is their unpredictable behavior.

They are learning the concepts of “self” and “others,” but it can be a bumpy road to navigate until they really begin to fully grasp who they are as individuals.

But these concepts are a very important lesson we need to be teaching our young children to help strengthen how they understand and practice them.

In order to be a functioning member of society, we all must establish and respect boundaries.  

In terms of young children, it is our job as parents to teach them appropriate limits from an early age.

This is not only important in regard to recognizing the needs of others as they grow, but also essential to protecting themselves.

These vital boundaries can be physical or emotional, and having an understanding of acceptable boundaries is necessary in order to become a mentally healthy adult.

Without an understanding of limits and boundaries, children may grow up with little or no self-control or ability to make good decisions – a recipe for disaster that can lead to destructive behaviors.

Physical boundaries are often the first concept our children learn.  We often tell them “no” when they begin to hit or grab toys from others as toddlers.  

They begin to learn the concept of personal space as they explore their environment.  

While the concept of self is partly instinctual, as our children get older, we must help them to learn physical boundaries in terms of safety.

They must know that their body is their own, and no one is allowed to touch them without permission or make them feel uncomfortable.

Parents can reinforce this idea by teaching them about their personal privacy and that only mom or dad (or a doctor) are exceptions to this rule.

As they grow, we can teach them to respect the personal space of others by practicing in everyday situations – keeping their hands to themselves, using “indoor” and “outdoor” voices, and watching out for others where they walk or play.

This helps to build awareness of how to appropriately relate to others at a young age.

And then, just as important, are emotional boundaries.

This area is where young children test boundaries the most.  Tantrums, screaming, throwing things, whining to get their way are all common when children want to see how much they can get away with.

We can help them to establish these boundaries by being firm and consistent when they react in a negative way.  

Modeling our behaviors to them in our relationships with others is vital.  For example, we would likely never scream at or hit a stranger because they made us angry or upset.

We’ve learned better ways to handle these situations, and our children learn from watching us.

When at home, that firm resolve – without anger or raised voices – is the best way to handle emotional outbursts. 

It is important to give consequences, like sitting out of playtime if they’re having a tantrum until they are ready to calm down and discuss the behavior.

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And in the toddler years, hitting is common when kids are frustrated.  They may hit other children or even us.  

The best way to establish appropriate emotional boundaries for negative behavior is to firmly state the behavior is not acceptable, never by responding the same way as the child.

This was a common “old-fashioned” way of thinking – for example, when children were spanked as punishment for hitting.  It simply reinforces the negative behavior that you’re trying to get rid of.

Always acknowledge that your child’s feelings are important and relevant.  Telling them to “get over it” or “pull themselves together” does nothing to validate their feelings.

Showing them that their feelings matter and how to react to them in an appropriate manner will help them to establish healthy boundaries for a lifetime.

If we start when they are very young, in age-appropriate ways during the routines of each day, kids can easily learn about personal space, respect for themselves and others, and appropriate behavior when they’re out in the world.

Home is where healthy limits start, and this knowledge will help them deal with virtually any situation they’ll come across as they get older.

How do you teach your children physical and emotional boundaries?  Leave us your comments.