Good Boundaries For Kids (and Their Parents)

Playground politics. You know it well by now. It’s not just that kids get into scraps because they are still learning empathy, sharing, taking turns and other concepts, it’s also the parental reaction (or inaction) that can make for some very uncomfortable dealings.

We spend a ton of time impressing on our kids how important it is to be kind, respect others, to use good manners and all those other do-unto-others tropes. But what if other kids don’t play by the rules? Or their parents?

The truth is, there are some toxic people out there and our kids are going to encounter them. We have to help them develop their armor and their sword; the sword to discern authentic and healthy interaction from manipulation and the shield to protect themselves from aggression.

As they grow, we want our kids to build a vocabulary for identifying when someone is infringing on them willfully.

  • Healthy self-image. There are many schools of though on this but we do know pretty definitely that children bloom when they receive reinforcement for good behavior and progress, and that the opposite is true, that kids who are regularly shamed or humiliated will act out.
  • Ask critical thinking questions. When your child experiences harm from a classmate or friend, walk them through a critical thinking process, where your child looks at their own actions in relationship to the offender, if the offender was intent on doing harm. These questions will get your kid thinking about their role in the event.
  • Model your own personal force field. We all have a line drawn around us, and we are in charge of who crosses it. When we don’t like the quality of someone’s interactions, we can disengage and make it clear where the line is. Our kids watch everything we do and if they watch us play doormat to someone who is toxic, we show them that is how you handle it.
  • Don’t allow someone else’s actions to draw the dialog downward. When things get heated with kids, one name calls, and then the other name calls, quickly descending into a tussle. We’ve all had this happen, but it’s important not to give over that power. Toxic behavior is automatic and reactive, so again, refusing to engage is a skill kids need to have.


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