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Watching your child play with her peers can be an eye-opening experience. Is she sharing with others? Respecting her peers’ boundaries? “Being able to keep good boundaries with peers is essential for developing healthy self-esteem and friendships,” says Raquel Lefebvre, Vermont-based licensed psychologist. Help your child foster healthy friendships by teaching her about appropriate boundaries with role playing and activities that will enrich her understanding of herself and her peers.
Teaching Personal Space
If your child is a close talker or likes to be glued by your side, it’s likely he is doing the same with his peers. Lefebvre recommends lessons on physical boundaries to help him understand personal space. “I stand at one end of my office and have them stand at the other end and then ask them to keep taking a step forward toward me until they feel that they have hit their personal space zone,” she says. “If you cross that zone, you often feel physically uneasy and I ask them to pay attention to where they feel this uneasiness in their body and tune into that as a sign that they might be crossing their boundary and need to take a step back.”
As a parent, you can also show your child your personal space zone to demonstrate how boundaries can be different from one person to the next.
Help your child see how others view social situations differently through role playing. Act out common scenarios she may experience with her peers, such as behavior while playing with dolls or sharing toys. When role-playing, it’s important to listen to your child and help her figure out why she made the choices she did rather than telling her those choices are right or wrong, says Lefebvre. “If you feel your child’s response might be off, you could try helping them to figure it out for themselves by asking questions like ‘How do you think your friend would reach if you said or did that?’”
At school, your child has the opportunity to interact with other children, but as a parent, you may not have the chance to observe her behavior. Learn more about your child’s understanding of boundaries with her peers by observing her in group settings. Invite a few friends over for a play date and witness how your child interacts with her peers. If you notice that she reaches over others to grab toys, remind her of the need for personal space. If she is reluctant to share, this is your opportunity to teach her about the importance of give and take. “Unfortunately, how to keep good boundaries is not always taught in school, but you can help your child to learn how to keep appropriate physical and social boundaries,” says Lefebvre.
Since boundary preferences differ from one child to the next, a power struggle may ensue between your child and his peers. You can begin by establishing basic rules and boundaries at home, says Dr. Nancy Buck, a Colorado-based developmental psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parenting.”
“But when other difficulties arise, essentially when two or more children are trying to meet their need for power by getting their own way at the expense of other children successfully meeting their needs, they all need help in working it out,” she says. “Negotiating the boundaries creates a balance between safety and freedom where all win.”
Ask your child and his peers to define what they like in terms of personal space and topics to discuss and then, as a group, help them to negotiate appropriate terms that work for all.