How Do You Teach Children About Healthy Boundaries?

Maybe there’s an uncle that’s harder to get along with, cousins who fight, or a kid with food allergies. Having a good relationship with our extended families is something we all strive for, but there are times when that can be difficult even for adults. Establishing healthy boundaries can help you and your kids maintain healthy relationships and reduce the holiday stress! Plus, this life skill can translate into so many areas, making it easier to know your kids are safe. Start by setting boundaries around electronic devices, and have your kid practice on a safer phone.

Tips for creating healthy boundaries with extended family

How do you set boundaries with extended family? Setting a boundary with family is no different than setting them with friends or co-workers. So let’s review what a boundary is and what it isn’t. A boundary should be about you rather than telling someone else what to do. A boundary should be a reasonable expectation. You decide what you need and why. But you can’t expect what you don’t express! Awesome, I want to try, but what are some examples of boundaries? 

  • Time. Great Aunt Barb has shown up unexpectedly and indicated she plans on staying for dinner. You have errands you need to get done before the kids get home from school. How to set a boundary here: “Aunt Barb, I am so glad you came by. I love visiting with you and am glad you feel comfortable in my house. Unfortunately, I have some things I need to go out and do tonight so this isn’t a good night for you to stay for dinner. How about we plan for next Friday? I’m a pretty busy mom right now, so planning in advance really helps me.” A statement like this shows you care about her, but you also communicate that she can’t drop in with these expectations. It also keeps the focus on you, with no irritation directed at Aunt Barb, and no blaming her later when you didn’t get your errands done.
  • House Rules. You’re throwing a fancy holiday dinner party for the whole fam! You’re looking forward to every detail, except your niece’s kiddos. They are adorable, but they tend to run around your house, leaving a path of destruction. How to address this: You can make some general rules that help your niece not feel her kids are being targeted. Either in an email, or at the table when everyone arrives, give some general house rules about what areas in the house kids can go, and where you’d prefer people not go. This can be applicable to everyone equally and is reasonable as long as you don’t shut off the whole house. Or the bathrooms.
  • Politics. Your father-in-law always brings up his political opinions, which are the opposite of yours, and doesn’t mince words when he talks about people who vote the way you do.The last piece is important because it’s not a healthy boundary to tell someone they can’t talk about something. The issue here is the disrespectful comments when he knows you’re part of the party he is insulting. But he’s an in-law, so what can you do? When you know in advance a situation is likely to occur, talk this out beforehand. Talk with your spouse about it and how you can address your differences with your FIL before the whole family is sitting around the turkey. 
  • Maintaining. What if you have set a boundary and your family doesn’t respect it? If, after you’ve expressed your discomfort with political conversations, he brings it up anyway, then what? You can try to steer the conversation elsewhere or politely remind him of your feelings without calling too much attention. By dessert he’s talking about the election again? It’s ok to get up and leave. This is not storming out, but calmly and politely excusing yourself. It might feel rude or harsh at first, but it’s up to you to maintain your boundaries. Since they shouldn’t be about controlling others’ behavior, if your father-in-law wants to talk politics, he can and he will. You don’t have to engage in it though. If you’re still polite and in control of your emotions, this is actually a great thing for your kids to see! They need to learn how to make sure they are respected by others and that they don’t need to get enraged whenever someone doesn’t respect them.

 How do you teach children about healthy boundaries?

OK, this sounds great for adults so far, right? But you might be thinking, how do I teach my 6 year old boundaries? Teaching our kids healthy boundaries doesn’t have to be challenging! As you set boundaries for yourself with them, your family, and friends, they will learn by example. One super fun idea to help your kids learn about boundaries is to practice at home with their toys! Have them give their dolls boundaries or practice with their siblings setting a boundary around sharing toys. You’ve probably already been teaching them boundaries without realizing it, like when you tell your kids to knock on a door before walking into a friend’s house, etc. Let them do this in reverse too, to see how to set some for themselves.

From the Experts

How do you deal with extended family? Hopefully this has helped you know how to answer that question in your own personal circumstances! Talking with a therapist or learning from the experts can help you get more practiced at setting boundaries. Here are a few places to look for more information:

Boundaries make room for growth and unlock the potential for healthier and happier lives. Which is basically the mantra, motto, mission, and morning affirmation here at Troomi! Having the tools to succeed is what we’re here for.