Know Your Limits: Why Setting Boundaries With A Child Is A Form Of Self-Care
Understanding why boundaries are important for your child as well as yourself makes sticking to them so much easier.
If there was ever a time where setting boundaries was important, this is it!
Despite schedules slowing down for many due to Covid-19, self-care as a parent has gotten more difficult. With ever-present tiny hands clutching at you as their sole source of entertainment and companionship, it’s vital for your relationship with your child (and your sanity) to set clear boundaries.
Why is setting boundaries one of the key elements for a strong relationship with your child?
Authenticity and Trust
Setting boundaries with your child helps to prevent resentment.
If your child asks you to play with them but you really want to take a hot shower or reply to an important email, you will not really be present with your child if you say yes. You may be sitting on the floor with them playing dolls or super heroes, but your mind will be elsewhere. You’ll be drafting that email in your head or plotting how to get fifteen minutes to yourself for a shower.
Your child can sense this, and it doesn’t feel good. No one likes to feel like a loved one is just humoring them or phoning it in.
When it comes to things like play and together time, quality is so much more important than quantity.
Will your child whine and cry if you tell them you’re not available just yet, that you need a few minutes?
Yes, most likely, and that’s okay. Just as it’s okay for you to set a boundary, it’s okay for them to express their feelings about it.
Despite the tears, when you are available to be with your child, they will feel the authenticity in the interaction. They will trust that you want to be there and your bond will strengthen each and every time you spend that quality time together.
Setting boundaries helps your child gain confidence in all of the things they can do on their own. Perhaps they know how to get dressed but they want you to do it for them. Perhaps they’ve known how to walk for years, but they always insist on being carried.
Saying no to these requests when you’re too tired or you just don’t feel like it is okay. It’s actually more than okay, it’s super beneficial for your child. It shows them that you have confidence in their abilities, that you believe they’re capable people who can do things for themselves.
Does this mean that you never help your child pull on their snuggly jammies again, or carry them at the end of a long walk?
Of course not! Everyone wants to be taken care of sometimes and just as you might pour your spouse a glass of wine at the end of a long day, showing your chid a little extra love through physically taking care of them is a beautiful thing to do.
But only do it when you genuinely want to. That makes all the difference, both for you and for your child.
Modeling how to say “no”
Setting boundaries serves another crucial role for our children. It shows them that it’s okay to say no and it shows them how to do it with grace and kindness.
Instead of suffering through something you don’t want to do or waiting until you’re at your breaking point and snapping at them, practice saying no calmly and confidently.
“I’m too tired to play tag right now, but I would love to draw together if you’re interested.”
“No, we read two stories and now it’s time for bed. We’ll read some more together in the morning.”
“I don’t like it when you climb on me like that.”
All of these are kind ways of saying no, of setting personal boundaries that keep us sane as parents while modeling for our children how to advocate for their own needs.
Where To Begin Setting Boundaries
Try to pause
When your child asks for something and you feel that building tension within yourself, try to pause and take a deep breath so you can respond thoughtfully.
Decide whether you truly want to say yes or no and then form your response. That way you can respond confidently and your child will sense the conviction behind whatever you say.
If your child does react to a new boundary with anger or sadness, acknowledge what they’re feeling, but don’t give into it.
You might say, “You’re crying. You really want to play together. I love playing with you too and we will as soon as I’m done with the dishes.”
You can show empathy without getting totally wrapped up in a tantrum or drawn into feeling guilty for setting a healthy boundary.
Start a mantra
Think of a mantra to remind you how important boundaries are, not only for your own well being, but for your child’s. It might be: “show them how to say no” or “taking care of myself makes me a better parent”.
Whatever words you choose, repeat them to yourself when you start to feel flustered or guilty over your child’s response to a boundary.
Setting new boundaries can be really hard and it will be a transition that takes time for both you and your child. Just remember that it’ll be well worth the struggle to foster a stronger, happier relationship with your child for the long term.
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