We are currently in the era of gentle parenting. Unlike the ‘spare the rod spoil the child’ technique of those who came before, the parents of today are focused on teaching their kids through calm coaching. A crucial piece of this technique is teaching boundaries. Admittedly, this is a hard thing to learn at any age. As an adult, I still actively work to set healthy emotional boundaries. So if you also struggle to model setting appropriate emotional boundaries but want to help your children have healthy boundaries and respect the boundaries of others, let’s discuss how we can facilitate that.

There are several types of boundaries; physical, emotional, and time are a few. For this post, I will mainly focus on emotional boundaries as opposed to physical boundaries. While they are both important, I believe there are already prevalent conversations about physical boundaries for children right now. Emotional boundaries are how we let people talk to us and treat us. There is a fine line between being empathetic and being a pushover, or being vulnerable and This is usually something addressed during or after conflict. So let’s look into a few things you can do to help your child have healthy emotional boundaries. 

Like Goldilocks, we should be looking for a balance that is just right. That balance is crucial when it comes to expressing our feelings and helping others. We should be vulnerable and open, but not so open that it’s inappropriate or inconsiderate. We should also practice listening to others and being empathetic, but not so much that we always put others before ourselves. Here are some helpful tips to guide you in teaching your child about emotional boundaries.

1 . Teach your child that they have value. 

People who have healthy self-worth are less likely to be taken advantage of, since setting emotional boundaries requires the belief that your emotional needs are worth telling someone else no. There are many ways to help your child feel their value. One way is to practice talking about yourself positively. Your child is watching how you interact with the world, and if you speak kindly about yourself, it can help them learn to look at themselves that way also. 

One sweet activity is to sit down with your child and a list of positive adjectives (like kind, funny, gentle, and smart) and have them pick the one they feel best describes them. If they are nervous or can’t pick, you can remind them of a time they showed one of those attributes and say, “That is a time you made me smile. Which one of these words do you think describes how you were acting at that time?” You can use this word, and let it be a mantra for your child. If they ever seem down or hard on themselves, remind them. Have them practice saying “I am _____.” For example, if your child picked “smart,” when they encounter a challenge or hardship at school, tell them, “You are so smart. Remember a time you felt smart.” 

2. Teach your child that others have equal value. 

Having good self-esteem is important, but the other piece of having healthy emotional boundaries (rather than rigid ones) is the ability to exercise empathy. We should care when friends are having a hard time. It takes discernment to know when you should put others’ needs before your own and when you should put your foot down. But as long as you help your child by teaching them the balance of self-esteem and empathy, they will be able to know when to help their friends and when to put their foot down. The best way to teach empathy is to expose them to emotions and express them in words. 

For example, if a character on TV is clearly sad, ask your kid how that character is feeling. Then ask how they know, and help by pointing out what about their body language and facial expressions inform you of