I talked to one mom recently who knew straight-up that her daughter has trouble with BOUNDARIES. Here’s the story she told me:
The daughter and her cousin were rough housing and tickle fighting, and it was totally appropriate and fun, but at some point the daughter had enough but didn’t say anything.
After hearing this from her daughter, the mother talked with the cousin, who had no idea that the daughter had been uncomfortable.
In our conversation, the mom was thinking beyond this particular situation: What if someone touches my daughter in a way she doesn’t like and my daughter doesn’t do or say anything?
Here’s what I want you to know about empowering your kid:
First of all, this is a totally normal response from the daughter. When we’re so uncomfortable that we can’t problem solve, our brains slip into old survival skills and choose Fight, Flight or Freeze. This girl didn’t fight back and she didn’t run away; she Froze. Totally understandable and normal. Also not ideal.
With our big human brains, we can do better. Ideally, we feel that moment of discomfort and problem solve our way back into a more comfortable place. That mental gymnastics isn’t always obvious, and it’s a skill. Stepping into your power and wielding it well takes practice.
A good place to start is with a rule: All touch should feel good to both people. If it doesn’t, like in this situation, the rule has been broken. Little kids police each other passionately and report rule breaking, giving us a chance to review the situation and help them learn to navigate each other’s boundaries better.
Teens and tweens will agree with the rule, but may not follow it. They’re more interested in social nuance, how their actions will be perceived and interpreted by others, the give and take of relationships. They may con themselves into believing that they’re being generous by not defending their boundaries. They may prefer to avoid a confrontation, to buy the appearance of social success at the price of honoring themselves.
In health class and at home, your adolescent hears, “You should respect yourself.” It’s a true statement, but it isn’t helpful to someone struggling with boundaries. They already regret their weakness and not thinking they’re important enough to put themselves first. Now on top of that, there’s a “should” that they’ve failed to live up to. They hear that their weakness is their fault. It’s rather like saying “You should be making $100,000 a year by the time you’re 40”, without saying anything about college, career paths, or salary negotiation. It’s not your fault if you don’t know how to do it. Don’t blame the victim! A person needs to know not just where they’re going, but how to get there.
Rather than the shame attack, empower your child. Kids who don’t have strong boundary skills need it described and broken down into small steps they can practice and reflect upon. You as the parent can provide clear language and frequent check ins to see if your child is noticing when their boundary gets crossed, able to name what’s going on, and able to take early action to rectify the situation.
Kids with good boundaries have a huge advantage. They can stay focused on their goals, maintain strong friendships, and do their adolescent experimentation in safe and healthy ways. Kids without those boundary skills lose themselves in big and small ways, forming brittle relationships and prioritizing badly.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to help your child with boundaries and self-respect, I’d love to dive deeply into this topic with you. Click here for a free call with me. Let me help you diagnose your child’s gap and suggest how to practice the next step.
In support of you,
P.S. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is waiting too long to start talking about sex, boundaries, pornography…and I don’t want you to have that regret! Boundaries is one of the topics covered in the Opening the Communication group program. If you know you need to be having more and deeper conversations with your child this year, let’s jump on the phone and see if the group program is for you.