The Keys to Teaching Children How to Set Boundaries

If you want to raise strong and confident children, it's important to teach them that setting boundaries doesn't make them a selfish or bad person. Setting boundaries is an act of self-love.
The Keys to Teaching Children How to Set Boundaries
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

All parents strive to teach their children to accept boundaries but, sometimes, we forget that it’s just as important for them to learn how to set boundaries. Teaching children how to set boundaries from an early age will help them build good self-esteem and healthy relationships.

What does it mean to set boundaries?

Boundaries help structure your identity. From the moment you develop self-awareness and perceive yourself as an individual being, separate from others, boundaries establish the way you relate to others.

In order to do this in an adequate way, you must be able to know and enforce your needs and demand respect. If you aren’t able to set boundaries, you let yourself get carried away by life and by other people, which leaves you feeling out of control.

Therefore, setting boundaries implies taking charge of your life. Knowing how to distinguish what you want and don’t want and being able to express it. It involves being able to ask for what you want or need and also to say “no” to a request that goes against your principles. It means knowing for sure that, as a human being, you deserve respect and not being afraid to let others know this.

The Keys to Teaching Children How to Set Boundaries

Above all, setting boundaries implies not giving in to other people’s requests or suggestions, even if you know that this may have consequences. Often, saying “no” will lead to conflict with another person, who may feel hurt or resort to emotional blackmail and guilt to make you change your mind.

Precisely for this reason, many people find it difficult to set boundaries with their loved ones or authority figures.

The “good child” image

Childhood has a lot of influence on the origin of this fear of saying no. Children are vulnerable and dependent. Thus, they need adults to be able to survive and satisfy their needs. In this regard, adults often convey to children the idea that to be a “good child”, they must be docile, obedient, and not resist.

Sometimes, when children express anger or disagreement, when they scream or cry, they’re rejected or receive unsatisfied looks from adults.

Thus, the child internalizes the idea that this behavior bothers and displeases others and, as their priority is to keep the adult happy because they depend on them, their response is to restrain. They learn to override their opinions and disagreement because they don’t want to disappoint, sadden, or anger adults.

As we grow, the behavior continues and it becomes increasingly difficult for us to realize that we’re denying ourselves to please others.

Teach your children to set boundaries

Therefore, childhood is the ideal stage to teach children that setting boundaries doesn’t mean that they’re being selfish or a bad person. In fact, this also teaches children that they need to love and respect themselves in order to love and respect others.

The Keys to Teaching Children How to Set Boundaries

If you teach your children how to set boundaries, you’ll help them get to know themselves better and improve their self-esteem. This will help them establish healthy and harmonious relationships, where neither party feels invaded. In addition, they’ll achieve the enormous freedom of being able to show themselves as they are, without fear of disappointing anyone.

The keys to teaching children how to set boundaries

  • Allow them to express their opinions with respect, even if they aren’t the same as other people’s.
  • Show them that their opinion matters and that it’s brave for them to express themselves, respectfully. 
  • Likewise, explain that all people are valuable and deserve love and respect. And that they shouldn’t allow anyone to humiliate or hurt them.
  • Remind them that, even if they love someone very much, they don’t always have to agree with them. They can express their opinions and can even refuse other people’s requests, as that doesn’t mean that the relationship is going to end.
  • Finally, let them know that the most important person in their life has to be themselves, and that it isn’t good to do something they don’t want to do just to gain the approval or friendship of others.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Carranza, M. L. (1998). Conflictos emocionales del niño. DIGITAL PUBLICATIONS, INC..
  • Fensterheim, H., & Baer, J. (2017). No diga sí cuando quiera decir no: aprenda a comunicarse de forma asertiva. Debols! llo.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.