Teaching Children Relationship Boundaries

As my son enters his teenage years, I have become more concerned about his vulnerabilities. Twice I have learned of incidents where classmates coaxed him into inappropriate behaviors at school. I’ve also dealt with a stepdaughter who would climb into visitors’ laps, hugging them until they were uncomfortable. So I have wondered, how can I teach my children relationship boundaries, to protect them from people who would take advantage of them? This is important information for any child.

I found an excellent way to teach this, through the idea of Circles, devised by Marklyn P. Champagne and Leslie W. Walker-Hirsch. Using the visual image of expanding circles, a child can be taught the differences in behaviors, depending upon the relationship.

Draw or recreate the following model for your child:

Ask him to list people who might be in the different circles. Who are family members? Who are best friends? Friends? People we’ve met who we aren’t close to? Write names or examples in the circles.

Now discuss appropriate behaviors for the different “circles.” Here are some discussion examples:

Family Circle: Family members are the people we’re closest to. Family members can have hugs and kisses. We say “I love you,” to family members. We can talk about private things with our parents.

Best Friend Circle: To our closest friends, we can give hugs when we say hello and goodbye. We can say “I like you,” to them.

Friend Circle: We can shake hands with our friends, or pat them on the back. We can say “I like you.” We can play games and take turns.

People We’ve Met Circle: People in our classes at school or neighbors can have a handshake, and a wave. We can say, “Hello, how are you?” and smile.

Strangers (On the outside): Strangers are people we have not met and don’t know. We don’t hug or say “I love you,” to them. We can be polite and say, “Thank you,” and “Excuse me” if we need to. But otherwise we don’t talk to strangers.

If your child grasps the concepts, you can go further with your discussion. Ask “what if” questions. What if a stranger asks you to help him look for a lost dog? What if a person we’ve met tries to kiss us? What if a friend asks us private questions?

Post the “Circles” model in the child’s room, as a reminder about the discussion. Refer back to it, if the child has ongoing difficulties or questions.