Setting the boundary

If you are finding yourself in the passive-aggressive flip, change is possible! When we know we can handle our child’s emotional reactions & help our child through with our boundary, we are no longer helpless & resort to screaming because we lead with confidence.

Helpful Link

Click here for course notes

Feel free to join the conversation below.

Collapse Comments

Hi Sterna! This clip will help me figure out how to say things out loud without sounding aggressive or pleasing.. finding my “assertive” voice. I’m also wondering…when I ask my daughter to come here and put on her jacket (not pleading, simply asking “will you come here honey so we can put your shoes/jacket?”) What I do is I ask her once and see what happens, but since she’s so young (12mo) I then proceed to help her out myself and say “looks like you need help” or “I’ll help you out”. It’s not really a boundary, I know, (and i remember you talking about a power struggle between your husband and your daughter over shoes).. I am wondering whether I should just simply state that we’re putting on our shoes and leaving rather than asking? But it’s also her own body (and it’s not a matter of hygiene/health like changing diapers)..

Thank you 😊

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) May 12, 2022 at 12:56 PM

Hi Marta,

Can she put her jacket & shoes completely on her own? I’m assuming she can’t because you are asking her to come to you so you can put these things on her. Therefore, my suggestion is to connect first with what she’s busy with if she is busy with something, sounds like: “oh, I see you made a tower with these blocks, it looks so high! do you like what you did here?”. If she isn’t busy & she does want to go outside with you, then go straight to the boundary “we are going outside now, lets put on your shoes & jacket. what do you want to put first, your shoes or jacket? you tell me!” Give her this choice so she feels she has some control over the situation as well. Now let’s say she doesn’t want to & refuses both, is this something you think is important enough to force this on her? I personally wouldn’t argue over such a situation & simply say, “okay, I’ll put your shoes & coat in a bag for when you want them. let’s go!” and then let her feel what it’s like to not have shoes (maybe you’ll need to hold her to her carseat or put her in stroller) & a jacket & experience on her own the need for them while she is outside. As I mentioned in the story you are bringing up with my daughter & the shoes situation, putting on shoes & jacket is not an issue in adulthood so don’t make a big deal out of it in childhood either. She’s probably needing to have more autonomy & using this to gain some & that’s okay. You can support her with love while she experiences the natural consequences of her decisions.

Thank you Sterna. I will definitely try to connect with her beforehand and take the time, slowing things down. I don’t feel strongly about the jackets/shoes. It isn’t something I can say she struggles with, but it’s one of those moments where I feel like I need to ask for some kind of consent since it’s her body we’re talking about. Though I can always ask for consent, I can’t always let her say no (therefore my request for consent would be disingenuous). I’m also thinking of all those times where she will need to receive some kind of medical treatment (let’s say she needs a suppository, an injection..). I would like to ask for consent, it’s what I would do, but I also know that some things need to be done all the same. What if she doesn’t give consent? (She is obviously too young to consent to a medical treatment).

Am I mixing up concepts?

Thank you again!

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) May 16, 2022 at 8:31 AM

Hi Marta,

I totally hear what you are saying. When putting on a jacket on our child, we are doing something to their body & would need their consent. Thing is, as parents we are the one’s responsible for our child’s physical safety & so there will be times where we will have no choice to do something to our child’s body that they aren’t giving consent to & even maybe screaming that they don’t want what is being done to them. The key in such situations is to inform our child prior to doing whatever it is that is about to take place & also talk about after they’ve calmed down. Mentioning to our child that their body is theirs & also we are responsible for the well being of their body. Important to share with our kids that as they grow older, they will be more and more responsible for the well being of their body. In regards to medical consent, there’s lots of things to consider such as, does our child need more preparation & understanding before a medical procedure that can wait? Sometimes, when kids are given lots of explanations & they fully understand why the doctor needs to do whatever it is we are going to do & also shown exactly what will be done, they end up giving consent. This is actually the next month’s course topic. I will be talking all about consent! All concepts are interconnected, all your questions are welcomed here 🙂

Thank you! Looking forward to the course about consent!

Hi Sterna. My son (20 months) is having a hard time leaving the playground. I tell him we will leave in 2 minutes, then 1 minute, then I say it’s time to go and we wave goodbye to the playground. This week he got upset and was arching his back to resist going back in the stroller. I tried to pick him up but he was trying to get out of my arms. It was a big city playground so I had to either carry him or stroll him (as opposed to letting him walk alongside me in the suburbs). I sort of forced him into his stroller and even though I was saying “I know this is hard for you, I’m going to put you in the stroller” I’m wondering if there is a better way. Thank you!

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) May 15, 2022 at 11:30 AM

Hi Lauren,

Try giving him a choice to choose from before leaving, for example: “what do you want to do before we leave? go down the slide or go on the swing?” this will give him some autonomy over the situation. You handled the situation as best as possible, sometimes parenting can be messy & we need to do what needs to be done while offering empathy & validation. When he says he doesn’t want to leave, you can also say things like, “you wish we didn’t leave & could stay here all day, yeah?” “would you even want to sleep in the park!” “oh yeah! I know you love the park & we will be back another day!” just to really show him that you really get how he feels. let me know how this goes 🙂

Thank you! I’ve started to give him some choices before we leave. I don’t think he quite understands yet but I will keep offering. And I like how you make it playful asking if he would want to sleep at the park 🙂

Hi Sterna,

We recently started playing board games with our 3 year old daughter because I know the many benefits board games can have and it’s something we would love to do as a family often.

We were playing Candy Land and she wanted so badly to land on the square with a popsicle on it, but every time she picked up a card, it was one with a color on it. My husband ended up getting the card with the popsicle on it and she wanted to put her piece on the popsicle as well. I explained to her that we have to follow the rules of the game, so she couldn’t put her piece on the popsicle, she had to place it on the color she got. I don’t think she was understanding what I was saying because her right brain was fully taking over at that point and she was screaming and crying. I went ahead and said something like “I understand you’re upset, and it’s okay to be upset…but we have to follow the rules of the game”. And she kept screaming and crying. At that point I think I said something along the lines of “looks like we need a break from this game and we will try again tomorrow”. At this point we started picking up and she was protesting and I said “okay do you want to try again now?” And she agreed so we kept on playing. She was still complaining about it a bit but we were able to finish the game on a great note. I don’t think she fully understands “winning vs losing” or how you win this particular game because wanted to be on the popsicle spot even if it meant getting farther from the Candy Castle which is how you win.

Did I respond appropriately to this situation? I feel like saying we will try again tomorrow was a threat. What could I have done differently or better?

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) April 22, 2024 at 4:36 PM

Hi Anna,

I appreciate you taking the time to share this scenario that you experienced with your 3yrs old.
You handled it so well, I especially love how you didn’t feel the need to cave in to pretending she got the popsicle card or bending in order to make her feel happy and were okay with you expressing her uncomfortable emotions when she felt frustrated.
The more okay we feel with our child’s disappointment the more they learn to be okay with feeling disappointed- of course this takes multiple experiences and something that happens over years.
In regards to saying, “we will try again tomorrow”, perhaps you can just say the first part of what you mentioned, meaning “looks like we need a mini pause” and then decide when you feel it’s okay to continue playing? What do you think about this?

When the game is over and our child “loses” the game we can say, “Oh I got to the end first, that means the game is over and I got to the first place first. Some people call this being the “winner” and you know what I think also? If we had fun playing then we won a good time together! Did you have fun playing this game?”. And say the reverse they “won” the game about our experience. Focus more on the fun of playing then the end result.

Also some games that 3 yrs olds tend to love that are more collaborative and not competitive (not that there’s anything wrong with competitive games, actually it’s amazing for learning many skills- just thought i’d share them with you here as well), are:
-Count your chickens
-Hoot owl hoot
-Snug bug rug
-The sneaky snacky squirrel game (this one is not cooperative but adorable and most kids LOVE it!)

With love,

Another question: we were at music class and the teacher brought out a large circular polyester blanket that the parents held on to and the kids went underneath. We lifted it up like a hot air balloon as we sang this song, it was cool and the kids loved it. One of the kids (about 3 years old) started jumping up and down under the blanket and the teacher stopped and firmly told him “No jumping under the blanket.” He didn’t stop. She was very firm again and said “No jumping. I will stop and put this away, I am very serious about this.” He stopped. She then explained that she knows she was serious and firm but that’s how you speak to kids his age and it is developmentally appropriate, and that she wouldn’t speak to babies this way. It kind of startled me at first because it seemed like an ultimatum, but then I was thinking that this perhaps was her firm boundary. Can you help me understand the difference and let me know your point of view? Thanks!

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) June 13, 2022 at 8:31 AM

What an interesting situation, thank you for bringing it up here.

You see, if let’s say the child continued & the teacher then went to put it away, all other kids (in this situation, most are babies but let’s say they were older & understood what truly happened & why the teacher put the blanket away & stopped the fun game) they would all be upset with the child that didn’t stop jumping under! The child would feel shame & blamed. In reality, approaching the child in that way also makes the child in charge of continuing the game or not, the teacher is being controlled by the child! Depending on what the child does- the teacher then proceeds to do. Do you see what I am saying here? A confident leader would approach this situation in this way: “Oh it looks so fun to jump under this (validate child’s desire), We can’t jump under this (boundary), please come out & you are free to jump anywhere else (redirect child’s desire to jump)” if child continues to jump: “I see how hard this is for you. I see you need help. I’m going to ask your mother to pick you up & remove you from underneath. I understand if this is hard for you.” do you see the difference here? WE are the one in charge of helping our child through the boundary, we don’t wait after the child in a helpless way.

Thank you Sterna, this makes so much sense and feels much better. I remember now what you’ve said about how threats like this put the child in control. This child’s mother thanked and agreed with the teacher, it seemed so old school.
So now I have a follow up question: what if this was my child that was called out in this way? What would you do in the moment and/or what would you say to the teacher after class? The only thing I could think of was something like “I got this, I can handle my own child, you can continue”?? And then how would you set it up so that this does not happen towards your child in the future? I really appreciate your input.

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) June 15, 2022 at 8:28 PM

Yes, exactly the way you are describing the situation. I would say something like, “I got this, no need to stop having fun!” & proceed to tell my child “(lady’s name) doesn’t allow any jumping under….”

We can’t control how others will approach our child, we can empower them to handle such tricky situations AND we can work on being a person our child feels comfortable to share their challenging experiences with.

Lets say this took place to our child & then they come back home & share what happens, we can then only bring our child to have certain realizations & understand our approach & values. I hope this answers your question 🙂

Hi Sterna,
I am pausing you in this lecture to ask you something that has just become clear to me. I struggle with the passive-aggressive flip and setting firm and clear boundaries. I’m confused about what the difference is between conditioning and boundaries. Because I hear you say: “Looks like you pulled out 2 toy boxes already. Before playing with those other toys, we’re going to tidy these ones first.” So my 3 year old will push back and scream “NOOOOOO.” And how is this not a condition? It’s basically saying you can’t play with those toys till these ones are tidy. Do you understand where I’m confused? Hopefully, because I need help with this!
Thank you in advance.

Sterna Suissa (Administrator) April 19, 2023 at 1:16 PM

I love this question & I hear how this can come off as a condition. The difference here is that I don’t wait after my child to do XYZ, I take it into my own hands. A boundary is something we do AND when it’s something our child must do we take into our hands and make sure that it’s done. So when we say, “We are cleaning up all these toys now,” we are physically helping to make that happen. If our child doesn’t join us, that’s okay – we continue to hold our boundary that only X amount of toys can be out at a time. This helps us keep the mess from becoming out of control and then blowing up over the HUGE mess when things are really out of control. We know our limitations and we want to honour that. Does this clarify your question?

Leave a Comment

Free Ebook

Get your copy of our "Daily Journal for Kids"

Enter your email below: