Teaching Children About Boundaries
Tickles and giggles. Two givens when I go to visit my precious grandbabies. The oldest, a boy, is 4 and the youngest, a girl, is 1 1/2. He loves to swing. She loves to toss the ball. They both love being barefoot in the backyard, playing in the sun.
And they love tickles.
I fully remember as a child being tickled by adults. At first, it is funny with lots of giggles. At some point, perhaps because I was an anxious child, the giggles turned to discomfort, giggles mixed with a bit of panic or maybe having to pee — stop! I’d say.
Ticklers prefer to keep tickling.
The loss of power I felt in those moments, the loss of control, the fear of being bound has never left me. I learned through this and many other experiences in my life that I was not in charge of what happened to my body — even when others only had good intentions in mind.
I do not want my grandchildren to ever feel this, especially not with me. So when my grandson is climbing all over me shrieking with laughter and then shouts Stop!…I stop.
He looks at me, confused. I tell him “Honey, you asked me to stop tickling so I stopped. If you say stop tickling, I stop tickling.” I usually wait for a reaction. Sometimes he breaks into a smile and goes right back to asking for the “tickle monster” to get him.
Sometimes, he decides to go on playing some other game or with a toy, or wants tickles until he’s worn out from laughing — but it is his choice whether or not I keep him subdued. To me, this is a crucial lesson for children to learn. That they have power. That they have choice. That we, as adults, can respect their physical boundaries.
If you say stop tickling, I stop tickling.
It is also important to remember that some children don’t even like being tickled! Make sure the children in your life enjoy this before you bombard them with a game they hate. If they are uncomfortable with hugs or kisses, it is even more important to respect their boundaries and not force them to kiss Aunt Suzie or hug Uncle Bernie — if it creeps them out and they don’t want to do it.
Learning the value of “No”
Kelley of Healthy Happy Kids blog shares with us in “Teaching Boundaries to Young Kids” that we should “Teach kids to respond immediately to — and freely use — ”No” and “Stop.” Whether they are responsible for or the recipient of the unwanted action, even one as seemingly innocuous as nudging or tickling, make sure children understand the sanctity of these words.”
I wholeheartedly agree. This lesson is crucial and the earlier children can learn the importance of these words, the better. If we respect their boundaries, care about their anxiety level, and their sense of safety — they are more likely to give that same respect and care to others.
Of course, you don’t want your two or four year old to be defiantly yelling “no” every time you ask them to eat their sandwich or put on their shoes so there is a learning curve you will have to navigate. Teaching them to differentiate between different uses of the words takes time.
Regarding “no” to putting on a jacket when it it freezing outside, or brushing their teeth before bed; explain that some things are choices and some things are things we need to do for a reason. Respecting them as they learn these lessons is helpful to them as they learn to show the same respect they are given.
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