Setting boundaries is fundamental to building healthy relationships. We probably all agree on this but may have different ideas about what boundaries are and how to set them. This week, I want to discuss some pitfalls of setting boundaries, and then offer some alternatives and other tips.
A boundary separates one person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions from another person’s. In other words, it defines where you leave off, and I begin. Different kinds of relationships have different boundaries.
Boundaries fall along a spectrum:
Enmeshed Healthy Rigid
(too close, ill defined) (clear, appropriate, comfortable) (too far apart, inflexible)
1.Pitfall #1: Trying to change someone else’s behavior.
- In reality, we set boundaries by changing our own actions, not by coercing or manipulating others.
2.Pitfall #2: Using words to set a boundary.
- Actions set boundaries, not words. Oral demands lead to power struggles.
For example, if while playing a boardgame, a child cheats, asking the child to change her behavior crosses boundaries and doesn’t work. Instead, put the game away, and do something else.
You teach people how to treat you – with your actions (not your words).
- You are always doing this.
- It’s best to set boundaries early (the sooner, the better).
- It’s easier to relax firm boundaries then tighten flexible/unclear ones.
Ever ask your student, ”How was school?” and all you get is “I dunno” or “fine”? It has been my experience that both parents and kids/teens crave a more meaningful discussion but are not always sure how to make it happen. This week, I want to share 5 ways to connect with your student of any age:
1. Change the Way You Ask: Rather than asking, “How was your day?” try phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Tell me about…” or “What was something funny that happened today?” or “When did you laugh?” or “What was hard about today?” You can also get more specific, such as “Who did you sit by at lunch?” “What was for lunch?” Or “What was the topic in history class?
2.Model How to Connect: Share details about your day first. Describe a situation at work and how you responded. Share a funny story about your boss. Share a proud moment or achievement. Describe something you learned. Share what you had for lunch and who you sat next to.
“Every good conversation starts with good listening.” – Unknown
3.Create an Open and Receptive Atmosphere. Turn off the radio. Put the phone away. Talk less. Listen more. Embrace moments of silence. Genuinely pay attention to the response your student gives. Follow up on a previous bit of information to show you really care and do remember.
4.Fine Tune Your Active and Reflective Listening Skills: Don’t problem-solve. Don’t rescue. Don’t teach. Just listen. If you’re unsure how to respond, just try reflecting back what your student shared. For example: “That sounds frustrating.” Or “Seems like you put in a lot of effort.” Or “You sound sad.”
5.Routinely Use a Theme: When your child climbs in the car, during dinner, or at bedtime, consistently use the same theme to open up a discussion. One theme I use with clients is “Petals and Thorns.” A petal is something positive while a thorn is a disappointment, struggle, or challenge. You could also use successes and challenges, hits or misses, Thumbs up/Thumbs down, or any other variation of this theme. Consistently using the same conversation starter can help prompt topics and may get your student thinking about it even before you ask!
Try these out and see how they work. Practice patience – and remember that success takes time. All good communication starts with good listening.