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Navigating Family Boundaries During the Holidays: A Guide for Parents

The holiday season is often a time filled with love, get-togethers, and fun with family and friends. However, for some, it can also be a time of stress, especially when dealing with family members who may not respect our boundaries. As parents, we want to ensure that our kids feel safe and comfortable, even in the midst of family gatherings where boundaries might be tested. 

Why Teach our Kids to Hold their Boundaries?

In a world that often emphasizes politeness and compliance, teaching our kids to hold their boundaries is an invaluable lesson. Boundaries act as personal guidelines that define our comfort zones, safeguard our emotions, and protect our sense of self. When kids learn to assert their boundaries, they are essentially saying,

"My feelings matter, and so do I." It fosters a sense of self-respect and reinforces their understanding of personal worth and self-esteem. Additionally, understanding and respecting boundaries is fundamental for healthy relationships. Teaching children about boundaries lays the groundwork for them to form and maintain relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. Finally, one of the most important reasons is that teaching kids to recognize and hold their boundaries can protect them from situations or people that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

Here are some tips to help navigate these situations and support our kids with their boundaries during the holidays:

  • Open Communication: Encourage open conversations with your kids about boundaries. Explain what boundaries are and why they're important. Help them understand that it's okay to assert their boundaries politely (and not so politely, if someone is doing something unsafe).

  • Set Clear Expectations: Before visiting relatives or hosting gatherings, discuss with your kids about what behaviour is acceptable and what isn't. Let them know they have the right to say no to hugs or affection if they're uncomfortable. And if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, they should let you know immediately.

  • Lead by Example: Show your kids how to set boundaries by demonstrating respectful communication and enforcing your own boundaries. This could mean politely declining intrusive questions or standing up for your personal space with family and friends.

  • Create Safe Spaces: During family events, designate a 'safe space' where your kids can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. This could be a quiet corner or a separate room where they can take a break if needed.

  • Prepare Responses: Help your kids come up with polite responses when their boundaries are crossed. Phrases like, "I'm not comfortable with that," or "I'd prefer not to talk about that," can be empowering and respectful.

  • Supportive Reinforcement: Offer support and validation to your kids if they express discomfort or stand up for their boundaries. Let them know you're proud of them for asserting themselves. 

  • Speak on their Behalf: Often we can see our kids are uncomfortable even if they do not, or cannot, verbally express it (pulling back, shaking their head, etc). These are opportunities to voice their boundary for them (e.g., “They aren’t comfortable with hugs today, maybe next time”). 

  • Debrief Afterward: After the gathering, check in with your kids. Ask them how they felt and if there was anything that made them uncomfortable. Validate their feelings and discuss how things could be handled differently next time.

Remember, teaching kids about boundaries is an ongoing process. It's about empowering them to advocate for their own comfort and well-being. By equipping them with the tools to assert their boundaries, we're helping them develop crucial life skills that will serve them well beyond the holiday season.

If you want more help learning how to support your children with asserting their own boundaries and navigating difficult situations, WonderTree clinicians are here to help!

Happy holidays!


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