Respecting your child’s boundaries is the best way to teach your child boundaries. This doesn’t mean letting your child do anything he/she wants, if fact, it means just the opposite. It just means that you respect that your child is his or her own person with his or her own opinions, feelings, and rights. Some well-intentioned parents distort the line that separates them from their child. Instead of viewing their child as a separate person, they view their child as an extension of themselves. Because of this, they often unknowingly violate their child’s boundaries. When this happens, the child grows up with boundaries that are either too loose or too rigid.

With loose boundaries, a child, and eventually as an adult, are likely to be passive and tolerate abuse. This child and adult have no real sense of self and don’t understand where others end and they begin. They do not feel comfortable saying no to others, even when others cross boundaries. People with loose boundaries are often indecisive and prefer others make decisions. They lack confidence and sense of self because they grew up having their feelings and opinions invalidated. They have difficulty being assertive and standing up for themselves. Examples: being inconsistent with rewards and punishments, letting your child “slide” often with negative behaviors, praising for negative behaviors, letting them stay up late as they want, relying on your child for emotional support, and, sharing adult concerns with your child.

With rigid boundaries, a child, and eventually as an adult, constantly fear being overwhelmed by others and losing their sense of self. They live in a state of self-defense. They construct walls and are careful not to let others in. They fear affection and fear being suffocated by others. They live their life guarding their boundaries because they were once violated. They fear that if they lower their defensive walls, they will become intertwined with other people. This crushes any chance of having an emotionally intimate relationship. Examples: Making punishments too harsh, discounting your child’s opinions and feelings, not involving your child in family plans or their future, their activities, insisting your child be like you, over-reacting when minor setbacks happen, failing to comfort when mistakes or negative things happen to them, failing to forgive their past negative behaviors, bringing up past negative behaviors after other unrelated negative behaviors happen, and failing to respect their rights.

Parents with healthy boundaries realize that their children are separate from themselves and give them the appropriate amount of love, guidance, structure, and discipline. They respect their child’s feelings, opinions, personal space, and right to say no in certain situations. The key to teaching healthy boundaries is respecting their rights as children, and as human beings-just like you.

Dayton Davis, NCC/LPC/QP

Counselor, Blue Ridge Community Health Services