A spat or two is bound to happen when your children are socializing with others, but if you notice that your child is struggling with boundaries and appropriate behavior on a consistent basis, it may be time to work on how to play nicely with others.
“Being able to keep good boundaries with peers is essential for developing healthy self-esteem and friendships,” says Raquel Ferns Lefebvre, Vermont-based licensed psychologist. “Unfortunately, how to do this is not often taught in school, but you can help your child to learn how to keep appropriate physical and social boundaries.”
With a few creative strategies, discussions and activities, your child will quickly learn an important step in his overall development.
The Value of Distance
When teaching children about physical boundaries, Lefebvre often uses certain activities and exercises with her young clients. “I stand at one end of my office and have them stand at the other end,” she says. “I then ask them to keep taking a step forward toward me until they feel that they have hit their ‘personal space zone.’ I let them know that their personal space zone is the amount of space between them and their peers that they feel comfortable with.”
Lefebvre further explains to each child that when you cross that zone, you often feel physically uneasy. “I ask them to pay attention to where they feel this uneasiness in their body and tune into that as a sign that they might be crossing their boundary and need to take a step back,” she says.
According to LeFebvre, once the initial exercise is over, she puts herself in the place of the child and steps forward until she has reached her personal space zone. “This helps the child to see that we all have different boundaries and we need to be aware that our boundaries might be different from someone else’s,” she says.
It also helps to role play with your child and offer suggestions on what to say when your child feels that someone is crossing his or her personal zone.
The Importance of Rules
Boundaries and rules go hand in hand when it comes to play. After teaching your child about physical boundaries, it’s important to discuss how rules play a part in crossing the line socially.
Lefebvre suggests asking your child to play an active role in establishing rules. “I have found that children are more likely to follow the rules if they have a part in making them,” she says. “I encourage my clients to have a family meeting where they decide on a family mission statement together and then establish which rules they would need to meet their goal.”
According to Nancy Buck, founder of Peaceful Parenting, parents and nannies need to help their children establish the rules and boundaries for how to get along with one another, too.
“If two children are fighting over the same toy, for instance, then the adult needs to figure out ways to help the children solve this problem,” says Buck. “If the adult solves the problem for the children, they will be doing this for the rest of their lives. Instead, the adult can help the children learn to create rules together.”
For instance, if both children want to play with a toy, they can choose to play with the toy together, take turns by setting a timer or find another toy of equal value.
“The adults can begin by establishing rules and boundaries, but when difficulties arise, essentially when two or more children are trying to meet their need for power by getting their own way at the expense of other children successfully meeting their needs, they all need help in working it out and negotiating the boundaries, creating a balance between safety and freedom where all win,” says Buck.
Practicing boundaries and adherence to rules at home sets the foundation for how your child will act and react in social settings with peers. As a nanny or parent, the more you reinforce the need for boundaries, the more likely your child will begin to exhibit stronger social skills with others.← Put a Stop to Nightmares: Tips for Soothing Your Child to Sleep | Back to School: How to Help Your Kids Transition →