What Are Healthy Parent Child Boundaries?

Therapists In St. George, UT Answer: What Are Healthy Boundaries For Kids?

At the Southern Utah Guided Wellness Counseling office our therapists are working with moms of all ages and stages, talking about how to manage the stress of raising healthy kids. And not just healthy, but respectful… kind… considerate… and imperfectly well behaved (I mean, they are kids after all!)

One of the ways we achieve this goal and not loose our minds is by teaching and setting boundaries with ourselves and our children as we parent them. In today’s blog we’ll be diving into the importance of setting boundaries with your kids, common struggles and how to walk a line between “controlling” and having clear, kid-friendly boundaries. Are you ready to get started?

What Happens When You Don’t Set Boundaries With Your Kids?

When we don’t set boundaries for our kids, they are not given the opportunity to recognize reality. This may sound overly dramatic yet if we look closely, it’s often true. Boundaries tell us where we begin and end and where others begin and end, in the physical and emotional realms. They help us take ownership of experiences, reactions, and the impact we have on the environment and people around us. They help us recognize what not to take responsibility for in the physical and emotional realm.

In a nutshell, you can think of it this way: Boundaries teach kids…

  • This is about me, not them.
  • This is about them, not them.
  • This is about us, the relationship.
  • This is how I affected them / the situation (and I need to make an amends)
  • This is how they affected me / the situation (and they need to make an amends)

Is It Very Important To Set Boundaries With Children?

If a child is allowed to consistently hit his mother “because he does not know better” or “it’s ok, he’s mad and I’ll never reject him” he grows up thinking he has the right to cross other peoples’ physical boundaries. He may be offensive to others and drive them away without knowing why. He may struggle in relationships believing it is appropriate to touch others without their permission, touch their things without their permission, or physically hurt others when he is upset and not understanding why the other person is unhappy with him. All this can lead to confusion, isolation, and loneliness. Or jail.

Conversely, if a child is allowed to cross personal boundaries he may be confused when his physical boundaries are crossed, and he does not like it. Or he may ask why it is ok for him to do it when it feels so bad? This type of confusion can lead to him questioning himself instead of the situation. Since he can’t label what he does not like, he may think, “I must be wrong for not liking it.” This can result in a child allowing others to touch him or his things in ways he does not like and/or inappropriate ways that can be harmful to him.

What Are Emotional Boundaries For Kids: Blaming, Tantruming and more…

The same difficulty can follow with emotional boundaries. If a child is allowed to be blamed for another’s feelings (one example is statements such as, “don’t make your mother mad”) he is going to believe it is in his power and responsibility to ensure the happiness of others. This is impossible. No one can control another’s feelings. If a child feels responsible for something he cannot control it can lead to feelings of helplessness, confusion, and low self-esteem. It’s true that we can influence another’s feelings. Yet if we confuse influence with control, we can end up both overwhelmed and feeling powerless.

If a child believes others are responsible for his feelings this can also lead to feelings of powerlessness. He might believe that he can’t even manage himself! He could believe that when he feels sad that there is nothing he can do about it. He may feel he is at the mercy of others to feel good. “They made me mad, and they need to fix it!” It might feel good in the moment to not be responsible, but it leads to powerlessness.

Melissa Spaulding, CMHC (a therapist at Guided Wellness Counseling in the St. George UT office) reflects on how her young child will tantrum and say “You are making me mad!” In actuality, he’s upset about not being able to stay up late; he’s disappointed and angry because he didn’t get the thing he wanted and this is a common human reaction. Melissa was simply the bearer of this unfortunate news.

St. George Moms Ask: Why Do I Struggle To Set Boundaries With My Kids?

It can be hard to teach and hold boundaries with children. It is hard enough with other adults – it puts us in a vulnerable position where one or both of you might feel rejected. With children, we might be afraid they will feel rejected. This can lead to a desire to show acceptance and love for them no matter what.

No one wants to inadvertently teach a child the lie that there is something about them that deserves rejection. It’s scary to take the chance that if we say no to their behavior, they might think we are saying “no” to them as a human being. Of course, we love and accept THEM no matter what. But we do not love and accept their BEHAVIOR.

Children need to learn the difference between unconditional acceptance of them as a person versus unconditional acceptance of their behavior. The former is true, good, and necessary. The latter is false and damaging. Interestingly, teaching our children the difference between unconditional acceptance of them as a person and not accepting bad behavior actually creates more safety for them. When we teach this, they learn that no matter what mistakes they make, they are still loveable beings which then leads to the freedom to make mistakes. Even if they make a mistake and cross a boundary, they are still accepted and loved. The boundary crossing is not loved nor allowed. But their little selves are.

Am I Controlling Or Setting Boundaries?

The difference between controlling and setting boundaries is found in identifying whom the control is focused on. Meaning, if we as parents are trying to control our child’s behavior we are being controlling. If we are trying to control ourselves and introduce a concept for a child to learn, we are setting boundaries. If we are trying to force results, we are controlling.

If we are supporting our children in making their own choices and pointing out (and enforcing) consequences so our children can make the connection between their own choices and what those choices lead to, we are setting boundaries.

One way to set boundaries without being controlling is to point out what WE will do if the child makes a certain choice. “If you continue to hit me, I’m going to leave and not play with you until after dinner. It hurts when you hit, and I don’t stick around to be treated like that.” The person’s behavior we can control is our own. The behavior we are changing is ours. Pointing this out shows the child the effects of his choices while still allowing him to make his choice. He can still choose to hit us, but the direct result is that we won’t stay to play with him. He can then go on to make his own choice: continue to hit and lose a playmate for the time being or stop hitting and continue to play with us? We did not force him to stop hitting so we are not being controlling. But we did set a boundary: we don’t hang around people who hit us.

Setting boundaries with children can feel tricky since we are trying to directly influence their behavior. Yet, in doing so we can end up attempting to control others, paradoxically, crossing boundaries! If we hold firm to our own boundaries:

  • pointing out what we are doing and why
  • allowing our child to experiment doing the same
  • then experiencing the results of those choices (through our holding of boundaries)

…then the child can learn what boundaries are. They can learn how to respect themselves and others through the process. This creates safety and confidence. It may seem backwards, but allowing children to cross boundaries is more likely to lead to low

self esteem and rejection, the thing we were trying to avoid! Teaching and holding boundaries does not lead to rejection, like we often fear, but to safety and connection for all involved.

Therapists In St. George UT Help Moms Get Clarity | 84790 | 94780

Boundaries can feel tricky for many reasons. Sometimes it feels complex because we are figuring them out in the heat of the moment, such as the middle of a tantrum or after a slap or hit. Other times, we struggle to apply information to our unique situation. For example, it’s one thing to tell a 3 year old that you’ll walk away if they hit you again. It’s another to tell your 13 year old autistic son who may follow you and become violent

This is where weekly therapy sessions with a member of our team can make a world of difference. No blog, podcast or self-help book can personalize the information you and your family need. We try our best, but your struggle matters and you deserve to take time to focus, get outside perspective, breathe and create a strategy and healing that allows you to cope with difficult boundary crossings.



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Guided Wellness Counseling

Healing Depression, Anxiety, and Trauma in St. George and all of Southern Utah.

EMDR Therapy and EMDR Consultation Services.

720 South River Road Suite E 103, St. George, UT 84790