Personal Boundaries

I could see the discomfort in his eyes. My little boy had taken his baby girl’s hand and was trying to lead her across the room to show her a toy. One look at the papa, told me it was time to have a big discussion with my little man. It was time to talk about personal boundaries.

I’m not sure how most boys approach the subject of personal boundaries, seeing as I only have one, but my little guy is extremely affectionate towards his sisters and both of us parents. He is free to hug us, sit on our laps, and express his affection. When it comes to friends, once he warms up to you, he willingly asks to hold your hand while walking in busy crowds or wants to know if you’ll go on that ride at Disney with him.

I’ve recently begun to notice that our son is particularly tender-hearted toward children younger than himself; especially young girls. He wants to walk them to where ever they need to go. He wants to open their door; help them with their chairs; and more. While this might seem sweet to some, I’m afraid it’s also going to become an uncomfortable habit for other parents to witness. (As was the case with my friend’s husband.)

Personal BoundariesLittle man and I needed to have a talk about personal boundaries. We’d already discussed proper ways to get someone’s attention, by gently touching their arm or waiting patiently for someone to acknowledge him. Now we talked about not holding hands with young ladies; ladies who aren’t his sisters, that is.

While I appreciate my son’s desire to be helpful and sensitive towards those younger than himself, he needs to learn when and how to do so. When it comes to young ladies, it might be best to let their parents handle things or, at the very least, keep a significant distance between himself and the young girl.

This is a hard lesson for a young child to learn, especially for the baby of the family, I would venture to guess. They are so used to holding someone’s hand, they assume all those younger than themselves must do the same. I would imagine it is also confusing for them to know who they can be affectionate with. Some of our personal friends have no problem with our children holding hands, especially as our son tends to be the youngest in the crowd. On homeschool outings, the older boys are encouraged to hold hands with the little fellas and the girls are always doing so with each other without having to be asked. As Christians, our children are frequently greeting their friends with hugs and doing so again when they depart.

At some point though, it was inevitable. My little guy is getting bigger and those lines in the sand need to be drawn. My babies are growing up! (sigh)

Where do you draw the line when it comes to personal boundaries with your children?

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11 thoughts on “Personal Boundaries

  1. Yes, we have had to have these discussions. It was one of the more difficult subjects, because we are loving and affectionate, and like you, affection is shown freely in our home. Snuggles, hugs, and holding hands are common.

    I approached it by explaining that not everyone likes to be touched, so we must ask before holding hands or hugging. We did some role play where we pretended that someone my son didn’t know walked up and held his hand. That seemed to help him understand better.

    It is a fine line for sure!

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  2. I have had this come up, too!

    A couple of years ago, I noticed that my little boy hugged friends when he said hello or goodbye. It was natural enough. We hug in our family, and extended family. When we started having regular playdates every week, he began to feel close with the children that he was seeing on a regular basis. I was uncomfortable with the hugging, and the other children seemed to be taken aback, even though they were just little. My eldest was only four, so I kept it clear and simple. We only hug and kiss our family, and not our friends. Then we had to clarify who were friends and who were cousins, and it was fine.

    It got confusing again when we begin attending a church where the ladies hug each other. I had to add that sometimes girls hug their friends, but boys only hug their family. So it stayed relatively clear. My eldest extrapolated further that since Daddy & I hug each other, someday he will hug his wife! I explained that when a man and woman got married, they chose to become each other’s family. It led to a neat discussion about marriage.

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    • I think you are on to something there.

      I’ve needed to explain to him that he can hug his family, but, with others, unless they initiate further, he would do best to just shake hands.

      Again, I am sure this must be fairly confusing for children. (It can be for adults!) I have some friends who have no problem with me hugging their husbands or sons; some men even initiate this themselves. So, how are we to teach them who is acceptable and who is not?

      I think the key, once again, lies in the closeness of the relationship and letting wisdom lead. We don’t hug those we don’t know very well and we don’t hug those we feel led not to. Teaching this to kids however… that’s tough.

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  3. My 5 year old loves to help out with his baby sister and any other baby around. I have to constantly remind him when its okay to pick them up (they’re both around 12 months, so he can pick them up) and when its not okay. I think the line is tough to hold to since he does help out from time to time. If I’m distracted I’ll ask him to grab his sister since she’s crawling into the fireplace again (I have 3 kids, I’m often distracted 🙂 ). I’m trying to teach him how to read her cues. If she’s making “that sound” she doesn’t want to be hugged. Its really a constant discussion between my son, my husband and myself, especially since he is so physical.

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    • I think men are much more affectionate than we give them credit for. We tend to think their mind is only bent in one direction, especially as they mature. I wonder if we aren’t doing them a disservice. I think boys need as much physical touch as girls do, just in a different way.

      Teaching them to find balance in this area is definitely going to require wisdom and guidance. 🙂

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  4. I don’t have a son, so I can’t speak to that side of things, but I can say that I can’t imagine getting upset about another child holding Grace’s hand (when she was younger or now) unless she was being dragged against her will or something. I think it’s sweet and well-adjusted that your son is comfortable with affection, and I, personally, don’t put hand-holding in the “inapporopriate” category. This post actually makes me a bit sad that something so innocent and harmless has become an eyebrow-raiser for some.

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    • Honestly, it saddens me as well. My son is young and innocent, I didn’t think we needed to be concerned with personal boundaries for a little while yet.

      However, I also want to be sensitive to others who might have concerns.

      Interestingly, I never had these issues with my daughters. I never had to worry about them holding a boy’s hand or being too close to a young man. For some reason this issue did not arise until recently and only with our son.

      I too, appreciate that my son is comfortable with affection. I think this is something we often train out of our young men. We are praying we will receive wisdom in how to guard him without losing that trait.

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  5. Honestly, I’m working on this with my son as well. He wants to run up and hug everyone he meets and say hi to everyone who passes by. It is a fine line and difficult to explain to him that others may not be so accepting of his embrace as family and close friends are. We have had several discussions in the past few weeks about how all of his friends may not be comfortable with him giving them hugs at random. Thank you for sharing that I am not the only one dealing with this. 🙂

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  6. Oh, our son has a girl best friend who is the daughter of our dear friends. They’re only a couple of months apart and have been together almost everyday for years since the girl was born. Both families agreed they needed some boundaries because we realized that there are some things that they seem curious about that they are curious about together. It’s a good thing that we moved, it gave them space to be with other friends. Friends of the same gender. We’ve talked to our kids too regarding boundaries and honoring each other.

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  7. I sometimes believe our society places a stigma on affection. It is often interpreted as sexual when indeed it is not. My youngest has no problem telling a friend, “I love you.” This is not a romantic statement to a same sex friend but a feeling he has towards a friend who is like a brother to him.
    Touch invades personal space and though seldom intended as is interpreted there is a boundary and point where the touch must be restrained. Age begins to dictate this as well as our societies thoughts on the subject.

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