Teach your children how to set healthy boundaries



Boundaries  are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.

Edwin Louis Cole 


For those who read my posts and may not know, I am a gynecologist who does physical examinations on potentially sexually assaulted children. This can be a grim task. That is why I am writing today about boundaries. Teaching our children about boundaries is the best way to help them protect themselves in the future.

It is vitally important to teach your children boundaries early in life. Even when your children are quite small, it is important to begin instructing them about the boundaries that should exist between themselves and others. A child who grows up in a home having healthy limits will also learn to apply such boundaries in his own life.

What Does “Boundary” mean?

A boundary signifies a limit that a person has. Such limits can be either physical or emotional.

Physical boundaries. This boundary limit is physical and tangible, like one’s body parts. Explaining to your child that his body belongs only to him and nobody else teaches him or her to develop a sense of their physical self. Explaining, “Daddy’s body belongs to him” and “Your body belongs to you” is a great place to start.

Emotional boundaries. Another type of boundary can be more emotional than physical. Teaching children that it is not okay to say hurtful things to others is an example of an emotional boundary. Teasing or bullying would be other ways of crossing a person’s emotional boundary.

In a sense, boundaries are rules that you choose to live by. Living with boundaries basically means two things. It means first that, I won’t do anything to harm you. It also means that I expect you not to do anything to harm me, but if you do, I will let you know.

How do you each boundaries?

When you are raising children to have healthy boundaries, it’s important to allow the children to have and express their own feelings. This one can be difficult for some parents. It is not unusual for parents to squelch a child’s healthy behavioral and natural expression.

For example, if a 4-year-old starts crying and stomps his feet, what would you do as the parent? One healthy strategy to ensure your 4-year-old develops healthy boundaries is to help him label his feelings. Try saying something like, “I see that you are feeling frustrated that you can’t have the candy right now. Perhaps you can have some candy after dinner.” Then, move on with your life.

You have helped him to label his emotions. You chose not to punish him or demand that he stop crying or that he try to straighten up right this instant. As the parent, you have just shown acceptance of your child’s feelings. Each time you behave in this way, you are reinforcing your child’s natural sense of self and boundaries.

Sometimes, you will need to explain some boundary situations or “rules” to your child. For example, explaining to a child that no one except the doctor when Mom or Dad is also present should touch the child where their bathing suit fits is an effective way to begin to teach a child the limits and boundaries related to his own body.

Modeling Boundaries

Ultimately, the single best way to teach children, or anyone else for that matter, about healthy boundaries is for parents to have healthy boundaries themselves and to model them.

Showing respect for each person in your house, ensuring that everyone has the right to their feelings and appropriate expressions of them, and talking openly and honestly about any challenging issues demonstrate healthy boundaries for your children.


From the moment that your children enter into your lives, you are charged to teach them many things so that they will grow up to be happy, healthy and producive members of society. Teaching your children about limits and boundaries shows your kids a truly healthy way to live.

Parents who ensure their children grow up learning about limits and boundaries provide a solid foundation for their children’s futures. try applying some of these methods as you teach your kids about having and maintaining healthy limits and boundaries. Your kids will not only survive, they will thrive!




For more information see www.martinamcgowan.com


photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachstern/3475621998/in/photostream/

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  1. says

    Boundaries keep us safe. As an educator, I find this true in business, in marriage, and as an individual and parent. As I work with families, particularly step and blended families where so often a lack of boundaries is what led to the original famliy’s demise it becomes clearly a subject that needs continual reinforcement.

    As we grow older, Les and I find that the boundaries are also about defining “enough” “success” and “celebration”, too often folks work with an endless ceiling of where striving can take them when perhaps the always striving for more is a boundary that needs to be called as well.

    Great writing Martina, as always.

    • says

      Thanks, Sweetie.

      Yes the formation of good boundaries and the will to stick with them are important as adults as well. Hopefully we can begin some of that work in our children as parents.

      As you and your husband have done, I have done and written about ways to express the “enough-ness” in my life. This has required spending some quality time with myself and sorting out what really belongs in my life and what does not.

      Knowing who you are and being honest with yourself about where you are really trying to get should help get many more people off the path of the endless pursuit of “more.”

      Thanks for the read and the comment.

  2. says

    Wonderful insight…powerful strategies for teaching children safe boundaries!

    With our 16 years of mentoring adolescents, Bill and I have seen sad after-effects in the lives of adolescents who received no early education about boundaries.

    Thank you, Martina!

    • says

      Thanks, Gail. Yes, getting the appropriate information to our childrem teens and young adults is very important. I applaud you and Bill for your mentoring efforts. Not many people reach out so diligently and deliberately to other people’s children.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. says

    Thanks, Gail.

    Sadly we all see the effects in our every day lives. Children we mentor, friends of our children, children at church, kids we pass by every day all wandering astray for lack of parental-type mentoring, solid foundations and good role models.

    Thanks for adding to the conversation.


  4. Edward benny says

    This is an educative article to read over and over again. If only the parents can take up the stress of teaching their children early about boundary setting,a lot of things will not go amis. Thanks Martina for this wonderful write up.

    • says

      Yes, Edward. There is a lot that is encompassed in our parental responsibilities, and helping our children establish good boundaries will serve them well for a long time to come.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment,

  5. SB says

    I’ve been married for 12 years and I am just beginning to realize how many of our problems stem from a lack of healthy boundaries- not setting and not respecting. The courage it takes to ask for something and risk rejection is hard to muster, as is the courage to set a boundary and risk upsetting someone. So we go around avoiding setting boundaries, not respecting each other’s boundaries and resenting, tiptoeing, dishonoring, demanding, guilt-tripping and everything else! Because I’m discovering the centrality of boundaries to healthy relationships, I want to teach my kids a lot earlier than I was taught the language and skills of boundary setting – and respecting.

    • says

      Thanks, Shana.

      You make a very important point, that our children learn much of their adult behaviors from us. So, it is important to us, as well as to them, to live an environment as healthy as we can preserve.

      Thank you,

      • says

        Thank you, Julian.

        Sleep deprivation usually makes us less than pleasant to be around. But, we also deprive our minds of the ability to function at their best.

        Thank you for always supporting and adding to the conversation.



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