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Teaching physical boundaries to support prevention

Teaching physical boundaries to support prevention

Defining physical boundaries

Most often when people think about boundaries, they’re thinking of physical boundaries. The E.R.I.N. Talk Curriculum from the University of Maryland Baltimore’s Levitas Initiative identifies your physical boundaries as including your body and the “physical space immediately around you.”

Crossing physical boundaries could be touching someone’s hair or mobility device, a kick, a hand on our back, or anything where someone is not treating our body and space the way we want it treated. Even without touching us, someone can cross our physical boundary by sitting too close or by giving us an uncomfortable feeling by staring at us from across a room. 

Helping children understand their and others’ physical boundaries

We want kids to listen to their feelings when it comes to physical boundaries. By helping them notice and define their physical boundaries (when their body feels safe and calm, when their tummy gets an uncomfortable feeling,) we can help them understand their bodies are separate from others. These signs can grow into boundaries they can set and maintain now and in future relationships.

And it’s not just a child’s own boundaries we want them to get used to recognizing. It’s also important for children to understand that other people have different wants and needs when it comes to what they’re comfortable with in their physical space.

As adults, we can even help model setting and respecting boundaries through our behavior. We can tell a child when we don’t feel comfortable with they’re roughhousing with us, or that we’re allowed to have parts of our bodies we want to keep to ourselves. The more practice children have respecting bodies and physical boundaries at home, the more likely they’ll be to think about it in other relationships.

Practice setting physical boundaries 

Here are a few suggestions LifeBridge Health’s Center for Hope has for helping kids practice physical boundaries. As you practice, it’s important to reaffirm and reinforce good examples of boundaries. You can say, “Good job using your words to let us know what your body likes/doesn’t like.”

  1. Role-playing: You can work with children to help them get comfortable using their words and setting boundaries. You can also help them remember that other people have boundaries too. Give it a try: 
    • Ask: “Let’s pretend another kid is sitting too close to you, what would you say to ask them for space?” A child might say: “I don’t like being this close right now.”
    • Ask: “Pretend I’m sitting next to you on the bus and you can tell that I’m trying to get some space. What would you do?” A child might say: “It’s a little crowded on this bus, I’m going to find another seat.”
    • Ask: “Imagine I’m a grown-up on a school trip – how do you show me you want privacy in the bathroom?” A child might say: “This is my private time,” or “I know what I’m doing in here and don’t need any help!”
    • Ask: “Imagine I’m a kid in your class playing tag with you. How could you tell if I’m having fun or if I don’t want to be touched? What could you say or do to show you respect my choices?”
  2. Teach children that they’re the boss of their own bodies: In prevention work, we want kids to feel like they have a say when it comes to their bodies. “We can teach our kids to be the boss of their own body and that they should tell us anytime something feels weird or uncomfortable.”
  3. Respecting a child’s decision to protect their body and space: “Their body is theirs, so respect their ‘no’ and teach others that your child is not being rude but establishing their boundaries.” 

By practicing setting and listening to our boundaries with children, and by teaching them how to be aware of and respect others’ boundaries, they’ll keep relearning that their choices around their – and others’ – bodies matter. We can empower them when it comes to communicating their boundaries. And we can help remind kids that everyone gets these choices when it comes to their bodies. 

 Click below to learn more about boundaries and prevention:

  • How boundaries support sexual violence prevention
  • Emotional boundaries when it comes to their feelings
  • Digital or technological boundaries, or what they’re comfortable with online 
  • And sexual/intimate boundaries, for helping people decide what they’re comfortable with when it comes to intimate relationships
About the author

Marissa Jachman is the Executive Director of the Erin Levitas Foundation. Marissa has two sons and is proud to incorporate protective lessons about things like boundaries whenever she has the chance!



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