Questions from the SitEinander Community
I would like to ask how to set boundaries for children that are not mine and how to behave towards their parents. I often have the feeling that parents apologize to each other when they have clearly said “no” to the other child. It is as if it was not socially acceptable, to take action against other children as well.
Answers from Familylab Coach Mathias Thimm
Setting limits is absolutely important – as long as they are within one’s own limits: I set my limits so that the other person knows who I am and what works for me and with me and what does not. Borders show in a positive sense what is possible together. I also set my limits to protect myself and my physical, social and emotional space so that I can feel safe. Without my limits I become unrecognisable as a person.
It is better to show the other person my limits before border violations occur or have occurred, so that I can do so calmly, clearly, decisively and in a friendly manner: Watch out, here is my border. You can get to it – but please don’t cross it! This is because once a border has been crossed, which I may have tolerated for too long, I will proceed to defend or recapture my space – with more or less aggression.
What can and cannot happen in my apartment? How do I want us to talk, play and eat together? Where can children be and what do they have to keep their hands off?
Familylab Coach Mathias Thimm answers your questions
Creating security and clarity for me and the Children
So that I can set my limits in a friendly way, I must firstly always be clear about what my limits are: What may happen in my apartment and what may not. How do I want us to talk, play and eat together? Where are children allowed to be and what do they have to keep their hands off. What do they have to ask for and what can they simply do? How much physical contact in which manner can I allow for myself? I have a right to my limits. And I can set them with a clear conscience. Borders regulate togetherness and give everyone security for their actions.
When visiting another child for the first time, I must communicate my limits to them. The child needs these limits so that it has an overview, and it knows who it is dealing with, where it is and what is possible and not possible. Obviously I will not communicate all my limitations at once and in advance, which is neither necessary nor meaningful. Rather, I must remain attentive in order to set clear and friendly limits time and time again where I need them. Depending on temperament and life experience, the child will repeatedly try to see what is achievable with me and in my home.
Different people, different boundaries. Why this realisation is important for children.
It is imperative that children learn that different people have different boundaries and that they learn to respect other people’s boundaries. This will be especially effective when children experience that I am also interested in their limits, respect them and do not hurt them. Two people who respect each other’s limits can feel safe together. And this feeling of security is the basic requirement for a relaxed and joyful social togetherness.
My limits change depending on the situation and the people involved. What my child is allowed to do with me, the guest child may not be allowed to do for a long time; what is possible today at the birthday party will not be possible tomorrow; what is okay for me in the forest will not be allowed during the S-Bahn journey. I also have to make that clear to myself so that I can communicate it clearly and friendly. I should absolutely avoid unpredictability and unfairness, because this will trigger a feeling of insecurity, helplessness and anger, emotions that fundamentally disturb social interaction.
It is important that children learn that different people have different boundaries and that they must learn to be respectful of the other people’ s boundaries
What if it doesn’t work?
If my boundaries are completely different from those of the guest child at home, or if the guest child has no experience with the boundaries of others, it may be that he or she is irritated and does not feel comfortable, constricted and his or her joy of life is restricted. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to come to me anymore. Then it is important to look together at what the child wants, what its needs are, and to focus more on the possibilities that are still there despite my limitations.
If the child keeps not wanting to come, then it may be that we do not fit together and cannot find a way. However, if the child has to come because the parents have come up with this idea, it may rebel or question my limits again and again through its behaviour in the hope that something will change in its favour. This can be very exhausting for everyone. Before the situation escalates, everyone, parents and children, should sit down at the same table and clarify their expectations and limits. In any case, the responsibility for a good solution lies with the adults.