Let’s talk about boundaries! I know…gah, no fun, right? It would be more fun to hear about the crazy, hilarious things little M said this week, right? We’ll get to that. We will, but right now, I have some questions and some things to say about boundaries.

We’re not talking about my boundaries…those are in place, and doing fine. They are even tightening up a little this year as I cut back and cut out some things that have tended to stress me out.
We’re talking about boundaries for little kids… in particular, for little M.

Little M does not have great boundaries…

The words are there…if someone is teasing her or tickling her, and she doesn’t like it, she is clear in stating that she doesn’t want it, doesn’t like it, or even telling a person they can’t tickle her anymore, and to please stop. But her little face…her sweet little face has a giant smile, and that giant smile downplays the words that she means. She is saying stop, but when most people see the giant smile, they think she still wants to play. Eventually, she ends up very upset, and is sad (or angry). But she doesn’t understand that she should tell someone, yet. It seems that she accepts this “boundary busting” as normal, and even sometimes seems to expect it.

We have been working on her having a serious face when she is using her boundaries… what else should we be doing?

With other little kids, I can understand…they see a happy face, and don’t always hear the words, because they are in play mode. But adults…what to do about adults? I feel like adults…teachers, family, friends, even strangers, should know better. They should hear the word stop, and they should back off from any child saying those words. So what does a mother do and say? The mother bear in me wants to jump in, and handle it, but I also want to teach her to protect herself and not just rely on me.

I want my girl to be strong, confident, and have good boundaries. I want to teach her that when she says no, and means it, that people need to listen to her. And I want her to know that if they don’t, they are being “boundary busters,” and that is not ok. I don’t want her to expect people to not honor her boundaries, and assume that bigger people don’t have to stop when she tells them to, because I feel like that can lead to problems when she is older…
How do I teach her that she has the power over her body? Besides teaching her to have a serious face and “mean it” when she says stop, how do I teach her to expect people to listen to her?


  1. Paula on January 12, 2013 at 3:26 am

    That's a tough concept for little ones to learn. If you have any story books you can use to help her relate and make connections (can't think of any titles off hand but try googling it) or simply make up your stories own using photos etc. As for expecting adults to get it, listen and stop, I witnessed the same type of thing this past summer with someone else's child where the youngster kept saying stop and the adults just didn't get it. End result was a very upset little boy. The adults involved wondered later why the little guy wasn't capable of stopping when the teasing shoe was on the other foot. Mmm…go figure. They had just taught him earlier that the word stop had no relevance. My suggestion for Mother Bear would be rather than tackling the adult doer, when the action is occurring and it's in the thick of things with M saying \”no\” and it's not working, turn your focus on M and use it as a teachable, coaching moment in front of whoever isn't getting the \”stop\” hint. For example \”M, so and so is looking at your face and sees that you are laughing so they THINK you are having fun even though you have asked them to stop. You need to put on your serious face so they see you mean business and have had enough.\” Work through it with her in the moment. I would personally then thank the adult involved for helping me teach M to manage her feelings and deal with them in a positive way. If the adult in question doesn't get it at that point, they have problems! It's tough finding that balance. Just my four cents – sorry about the long comment. This type of thing tends to drive me nuts…had to say aomething. Good luck!

  2. Tasha on January 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    We have had to work on this with our son who is 6. He is a very polite child who is a generally good sport about everything. However we have had to teach him to stand up for himself and in an assertive tone of voice say stop. I don't like that. I am done playing. Or stop that is making me uncomfortable. Mainly though we have worked on using a loud assertive voice. We have role played various situations as well that may come up at school. And we have discussed steps to take of the other individual does not stop when told assertively in a serious way. We have had this problem with an uncle who would tease too much and fuss with my son\”s hair. We actually had to tell the uncle please stop he does not like when you do that. He had previously told the uncle but the uncle would tease over and over each time he saw our son. My son was rightfully tired of having to say stop. We also worked on not smiling when saying stop. The assertive voice and body language as really works well. It is a work in progress though and needs review and practice. As we discuss school situations with our son we review assertiveness and how to cope with situations that may/have come up. Good Luck!

  3. jessica on January 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Ooh, I agree that this is a very tough subject! One reason I think it's hard for adults when the child is smiling is because they think she really doesn't mean it. With my sons, when they are being tickled and laughing and saying \”stop stop\”, my boys really want me to keep going. When I stop they say \”don't stop!! So probably adults that see little M smiling think she really wants it to continue. I agree with what Paula said, use it as a teachable moment to little M right in front of the adults. That way they get it too but you're not having to talk directly to them. Good subject to think about!

  4. AJ and Suzy on January 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    I just wanted to stop by and say that you are doing an amazing job and raise very though provoking questions. I am learning so much through your experience and I truly appreciate that! My husband and I are finishing up building our dossier in order to adopt from China as well. I have gained A LOT of inspiration and support from you blog! Thank you so much!!!!Susannah

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