Friday, January 20, 2012

Teaching Children About Setting Healthy Boundaries

It appears this is the week of teaching my children about setting healthy boundaries. So interesting.

As Tyler was packing his snack for school one morning he said, "I didn't have enough snack yesterday, I was still hungry afterward." To which I replied, "Tyler, I saw you pack your snack -- you put quite a bit in there. What happened?"

He said, "Everyone keeps asking if they can have some of my snack." Ahhhhh. My sweet, sharing son is giving away so much of his snack to his friends that he is left hungry. So, I said, "Well, Tyler what can we do about this?"

He suggested packing more food, to which I replied, "It is awesome that you are sharing, but when you share too much, there is not enough left for you, so we need to set some healthy boundaries here. What do you think of suggesting a trade when a friend asks for some of your snack?"

He thought that could work, but said sometimes they don't seem to have anything to trade, so he packed a little extra anyway. :)

After school that day, I asked how it went, and he said, "fine," and that he worked out trades instead of just giving it all away. Cool! Hopefully that one is solved! Although, I have no idea what he ate for a snack, now!

Then, there's Alyssa. She complained to me that sometimes when she has friends over, they don't respect her wishes not to play with certain toys that are very special to her. Specifically, she was speaking about a care bear she got from her great-grandma for Christmas. If you pull the bear's arm, it says, "I love you." She uses the bear at night to sleep with and desperately wants to save the batteries for when she is really scared and needs to hear, "I love you" from the bear. She won't even let me or Paul pull the bear's arm.

She said her friends still pull the arm -- even when she asks them not to. So, I asked her what we could do about that. She didn't really know what options could be, so I suggested a couple -- either for her to come to me when this problem arises in the future and that I would help her try to communicate her wishes, or for us to put the bear for a nap in another room where he could have some privacy.

Ideally, of course, Alyssa would handle this on her own by explaining just how special this bear is, and her friends would respect and honor that. But, she's only six and still learning to communicate, so I think I'm OK with intervening in a positive, teaching manner if the situation arises again. I'm not crazy about the idea of "hiding" the bear, because it takes away the opportunity for Alyssa to practice her boundary setting. Plus, I don't think we should have to hide items from our friends. This option may solve the problem temporarily, but not long-term.

So, this morning at breakfast we had a little talk about healthy boundaries. They both looked at me like I was crazy. Healthy boundaries? Those words are not exactly in the vocabulary of kindergarten or third graders. Heck, most adults have trouble setting healthy boundaries!

In Tyler's case, I thought it was important to teach him that sharing his snack is a nice thing to do, but if he shares too much, he is left with not enough. I certainly don't want to tell him not to share -- that doesn't send the right message! So, I tried to teach him to look for other alternatives to solving the problem.

In Alyssa's case, she really needs to learn how to stand up for herself. I can see it, and I know where she gets it from. It is something I have been working on for quite a while now!

So, although these challenging parenting situations were presented to me this week, I am grateful for the opportunity they provided for me to talk to Tyler and Alyssa about important issues that will serve them well for the rest of their lives!

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