By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
It’s often said that we teach others how to treat us. We teach others how to treat us through the way we treat ourselves and through the type of treatment we accept from others. This is as true for adults as it is for children.
As parents (or other caregivers), it’s our job to teach our kids to treat others well by teaching them about boundaries, including such lessons as how to speak to people politely, why it’s important to keep your hands to yourself, and why you shouldn’t take what isn’t yours.
In addition to instructing our kids on how to respect others, it’s also a parent’s job to teach kids how to assert their own boundaries so that others know how to respect our kids, too.
Scripture tells us that Our Father, like any parent, wants His children to have a bright, hopeful future and live peacefully with one another (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). To help us achieve that, God gave us the Bible as a “roadmap on relationships” to follow and impart to our children.
Here are 6 Biblical reasons why it’s important to teach your children to have healthy boundaries.
1. Boundaries Teach Children to Be Responsible
Scripture says that each person is to carry his own load or, in other words, take charge of his own responsibilities (Galatians 6:5). For children, these responsibilities vary by age.
The littlest ones may only be responsible for listening to Mom and Dad, and not hitting or throwing—all early lessons in respect (boundaries with others) and self-control (boundaries with self). As children grow, so do their responsibilities to include such things as getting themselves ready for school, doing their homework without reminders, and keeping their rooms and other areas of the home clean.
Accomplishing these daily tasks is essential for children to establish their own identity and role in the household apart from their parents. Further, giving children age-appropriate tasks gives kids the opportunity to learn how to do things on their own, i.e., practice carrying their own load.
This lesson in independence and responsibility will become crucial as children move on to college, enter into adult relationships, and join the workforce.
2. Neglected Boundaries Teach Children Consequences
The Bible warns us that, sooner or later, we all reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Children who don’t meet their responsibilities or who expect others to complete their tasks for them eventually feel the consequences of their negligent behavior.
A child who doesn’t do her homework risks getting low grades and missing an opportunity to learn; a child who pushes his chores onto others risks losing privileges at home and having loved ones develop resentment for him.
It’s important for parents to let children experience the consequences of dodging their responsibilities. Teaching kids to carry their own weight or suffer the consequences doesn’t make parents the “bad guys” or “overly strict.”
Rather, it shows that parents understand that giving kids age-appropriate responsibilities in the present bolsters the chances of those kids practicing positive life habits in the future.
3. Boundaries Help Keep Children Healthy
Every adult knows that the state of our physical health impacts our outlook and self-esteem. Despite this truth, practicing the boundary of self-control is one of the toughest things for adults to do, let alone children!
Left to her own devices, what child wouldn’t spend most of the day eating cookies and chips and binge-watching TV? Parents wind up feeling ignored when they remind kids about the benefits of healthy eating, face-to-face conversations, and sufficient sleep.
When this frustration sets in, the Gospels help parents explain the importance of self-control in terms that even a child can understand: God loves us down to the very hair on our head and wants us to keep our bodies healthy today so that we can have a happy future tomorrow (Luke 12:7; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Jeremiah 29:11).
4. Boundaries Help Keep Children Safe
The Bible is clear in its warning: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Children lack the emotional maturity and life experience to see the “red flags” that identify certain people as “bad company.” Because of this, parents have to instruct children on what specific behavior is and is not acceptable.
Moreover, parents should encourage children to be unafraid to assert these boundaries as a sort of “personal property line” that mustn’t be crossed.
There’s no question that a child’s immediate physical and emotional safety is a parent’s top priority. To keep children safe, parents can set down rules (i.e. boundaries) to keep “bad company” at bay. For example, depending on the child’s age, parents can:
- Insist on meeting the person(s) your child is spending time with;
- Check social media accounts and cell phone messages;
- Discuss internet safety frequently;
- Link family cell phones with a location and alert app to monitor your child’s whereabouts;
- Encourage kids to say “no” and stick to that “no” when they feel uncomfortable or scared;
- Enforce curfews; and
- Not allow little ones to answer the door or the telephone.
5. Boundaries Teach Children to Respect Themselves
Each of us is a child of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). In teaching children to honor all of God’s creations, parents need to emphasize to children that this includes honoring themselves.
How a child views and acts towards himself is vital not only because it reflects the child’s self-worth, but it also tells others how they can treat the child as well. Therefore, if your child tends to put himself down, this may well signal to others that they can mistreat your kid too because he’ll tolerate or even expect the demeaning treatment.
If your child exhibits a pattern of undervaluing herself, it’s never too late to encourage her to have higher self-esteem. Start by reminding her that she is made in the image of the Most High God (Genesis 1:27). Then, ask your child what she wants for herself, what she thinks God and her family want for her, and how that compares with the way she treats herself and allows others to treat her.
Any concerning responses can be addressed through improved boundaries with herself and/or others.
6. Boundaries Teach Children to Respect Others, Wisely
When it comes to teaching kids how to interact with others, even children know the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This high bar is intended to be a lifelong endeavor given our human nature toward selfishness and envy.
Luckily, Scripture guides parents on how to teach children to respect others, and also on how to teach kids to exercise sound judgment when faced with people who behave in ways that the Bible forbids.
The Bible reminds parents to teach children to respect the boundaries of others by acting humbly and considerately, and by acknowledging the authority of their elders such as parents, teachers, and coaches (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 5:5).
As much as God wants us to teach our children to honor others, He also wants our kids to steer clear of people who might pull them away from Him. This means that raising children to have healthy boundaries includes working with them on how to spot and avoid the bad influences in this world.
Specifically, parents should discourage their children from befriending people who do such things as:
- Profane the Bible (Matthew 7:6);
- Are prone to wrath (Proverbs 22:24);
- Are sexually immoral (1 Corinthians 6:18);
- Lie, cheat, or engage in substance abuse (1 Corinthians 5:11); or
- Give foolish advice (Proverbs 14:7).
When we teach our children to have healthy boundaries, we arm them with a better sense of judgment as they go out into the world and face different people and situations. This good judgment helps our kids have more peaceful relationships with themselves and with those around them.
A child at peace has the skillset to, in turn, grow into an adult at peace, spreading this sense of harmony to others, as God intended (Proverbs 22:6).
Dolores Smyth writes on faith and families. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Aaron Mello