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Did you ever share your room with your siblings, and in a fit of frustration take blue painter tape and put a line right down the middle, standing on the other side with your hands on your hips? Or did you have a playhouse or tree house and kept that “space” a secret? Just for you and your closest friends?

Children like the power of having control over their lives and their space, and teaching them how to manage boundaries is fun. Giving them the opportunity to set their own boundaries increases their confidence. Seeing them struggle with the hard decisions is normal, but watching them grow and increase their confidence as a result is rewarding.

Giving our children the freedom to set boundaries while they are still under your roof is a gift. These values can and will carry over the bridge into adulthood.

Boundaries can backfire

Setting boundaries is one way of keeping us safe, but it also limits us if we set boundaries too restrictive. We miss the richness in relationships and in experiences if we close ourselves off and become afraid of the world and the people in it.

We will be teaching our students that its okay and necessary to set boundaries on our possessions, our time, our friends, our money, and our feelings … just giving them permission is a head start in their learning how to respect themselves! As adults we all struggle with when to say “Yes” and when to say “No”. Why should our children be any different?

1) Start with a positive “No”.

Teaching our children how to say “No” could begin with the following examples and “real playing” what they would say when asked.

When responding to something offered, say:

  • “No thank you” — when it is not wanted.

  • “Not right now” — if it does not suit at this time.

  • “I will need to check with my parents” — when a secret code may be needed to save face in front of friends.

  • “I don’t think that it is a good idea” — when it bothers them to do a particular task that may hurt another or just does not feel right to do.

Let’s not assume our children have the confidence to say “No”; they may need to practice how they would respond by “real playing” situations.

2) Utilize a secret passcode.

When our kids where little, we allowed them to call us at any time and give us the “secret code”, which made us the bad guys by saying “NO”.for them. When they didn’t want to go somewhere or if they just wanted out of a situation, we would go pick them up. We used this from the time they where 7 years old until NOW at 27!

3) Create personal lists of Do’s and Don’t’s.

Another great way to teach boundaries is for your children to make lists ahead of time of what they will do and what they won’t.

List 10 things you will do:

Make a list together, but be sure not to dominate this activity since this is their list. The list might be something like this:

  • I will always be a good friend by putting down my cell phone when someone is talking to me.

  • I will set goals that are challenging, yet realistic.

  • I will talk to my parents with respect when they want me to do a particular chore.

Make another list of 10 things you will not do. Examples might include the following. I will not:

  • smoke,

  • lie,

  • steal,

  • drink alcohol,

  • have sex, etc… of course, this depends on the age of the child.

We also encourage our students to have this discussion in the car on their way home. It’s a fun and interesting way to hear what our children are thinking.

4) Have a Personal Safety conversation.

  • Be sure not to scare your child with this conversation.

  • Just make it a natural part of your parenting.

This is teaching your children about personal space. It raises the issue of appropriate and inappropriate touching. Children need to know and understand that no one should ever ask them to keep this secret from their parents.

Here are a few discussion questions about boundaries that you can have with your children.

  • Why is setting boundaries good?

  • How can you set boundaries and still have fun with your friends?

  • What kind of friends do you want to have? What kind don’t you want to have?

  • What if someone wants you to do something you don’t want to do? What would you say? Why?

  • When is it okay to call home? Is it any and every time you want to?

  • If you don’t want to do something and you want your parents to be the ones who say “No” … what is your password or secret code?

  • When could having too many boundaries be more limiting?

I hope we have given you a few ideas on conversations with your children or students when they are exploring boundaries and their limits. For more conversation around the Life Skill of Confidence – Boundaries, be sure to check out my daughter Tiffany’s blog at

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