Infants and babies have no concept of boundaries, and simply desire to be near a caregiver at a moment's notice. Toddlers and preschoolers are beginning to understand that their bodies stop at a certain point and that they have to consider the rights of other people, as well as consider certain things that can have an impact on their personal safety. By early elementary age, children begin to understand the concept of physical space and are better able to understand the potential consequences of straying outside boundaries designed for safety. At any age, however, children must be taught boundaries so they're able to follow the rules.
Make Boundary Guides
Making boundary guides is an activity that can be done with children of any age. Sit down with the child or group of children and discuss the rules related to boundaries, such as no hitting, which is a good rule for smaller children, and knowing the area they're allowed to ride their bikes, which is a wise rule for older children. Work together to identify the rules and write them on a large piece of paper. Discuss potential consequences for not respecting boundaries, such as being separated from the rest of the group, and work together to choose a consequence for each boundary rule that gets broken.
Children of all ages can engage in role-playing activities that help them understand boundaries and practice certain situations where boundaries are necessary. For example, have children act out knocking on a closed door before entering; asking permission to borrow something, such as a toy or a cell phone; or using appropriate language with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Karen VanderVen, author of "Promoting Positive Development in Early Childhood," notes that children aren't born knowing the concept of boundaries and rely on adults modeling appropriate behavior to learn how to respect boundaries in their own lives. Role-playing provides that chance and lets children practice certain scenarios so they're prepared to deal with them when they come up.
Illustrate and Act Out Boundary Bubbles
Teach personal space by asking children to draw a picture of themselves and then to draw a large bubble around their self-portraits. Encourage the children to leave plenty of space around their pictures. Work together to draw images inside the bubble of people who are allowed to touch the children, such as parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members. Then draw people outside the bubble who must respect personal space, such as strangers, doctors, dentists and other people who aren't close to the children. With regards to safety boundaries, show your child how far he's allowed to go on his bike or scooter and have him draw a line there with a piece of sidewalk chalk. Have small children draw signs to outline boundaries, as well, such as a sign reminding them to ask an adult before going outside or to never open the front door without an adult present.
Sit down with children and read them stories to convey the importance of boundaries. Most children enjoy a story, and using picture books is an effective way teach them concepts such as boundaries. For example, "An Exceptional Children's Guide to Touch: Teaching Social and Physical Boundaries to Kids," by Hunter Manasco, teaches children of all ages the rules of physical contact. The book includes several short stories that teach things such as the difference between accidental touch and inappropriate touch. "Personal Space Camp," by Julia Cook, is a humorous approach to boundaries that focuses on Louis, who attends personal space camp and learns to respect others. Teens might enjoy "Boundaries: A Guide for Teens," by Val J. Peter, which provides story-like examples of boundaries in the lives of teens and gives them easy ways to respect and recognize boundaries in their own lives.