It’s hard to believe we are already nearing the end of 2021. The holiday season is right around the corner and this can lead to many mixed emotions and overwhelm. That said, this is a great time to improve or brush up on boundary setting in your personal relationships with your partner, family, friends, and in the workplace.
What are “boundaries” and why do healthy boundaries matter?
Adopting healthy boundaries protects your emotional well-being to prevent emotional and physical burnout, and social isolation. Boundaries, like a fence with a gate, are the limits and expectations you set for yourself and others and are enforced using effective communication. Think of the gate as the communication gateway and the fence as your limits and expectations.
Here are some key take-aways from boundary work:
It can feel messy at times
- If saying “no” rarely exists in your conversations or you’re feeling enmeshed in your personal relationships, introducing this assertive communication style may feel unnatural at first (and that’s ok)
What are your values?
- Ask yourself: “Am I respecting my own values?” If your boundaries do not align with your values you may feel stressed, anxious, or hold resentment toward others
- What limits and expectations do you need to set for yourself in family relationships, at your job, in your friendships, and within your community?
- Check out this values exploration exercise
When boundaries become inconsistent or inflexible
- Boundaries can be soft or porous, and you may find that you are not putting your needs first
- On the other hand, certain boundaries may be rigid, and you may find yourself guarded in relationships
- Healthy boundaries align with your values, and you will be comfortable saying “no” when you need to, and hearing “no” from others
- Boundary types look different for everyone and can be soft in some areas of your life and rigid in others.
- Saying “no” asserts your needs while valuing your relationships.
- Being assertive involves communicating needs with kindness and respect for others, vulnerability, and self-worth and self-respect
Poor boundaries can be a result of insecure attachment in childhood, complex trauma, low self-esteem or self-worth, amongst other reasons. And they may have served a purpose for you at one point in your life to provide a sense of safety and security. If you’re noticing that your boundaries are no longer serving you, we can help.
As always, if you need support in navigating interpersonal relationships and boundary setting, please reach out. Remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect on your relationships.
References and Additional Reading:
Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day – Anne Kathrine, MABoundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine, MA
“Boundaries 101”. The Calm Mama Method. thecalmmamamethod.com
Attached – Amir Levine, MD, & Rachel S.F. Heller, MA
“Boundaries and the Self”. Dr. Arielle Schwart. https://drarielleschwartz.com/boundaries-and-the-self-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.YYrkEBrMJnI
“Setting Boundaries and Setting Limits”. R. Skip Johnson https://bpdfamily.com/content/setting-boundariesLearn More
We’re currently three months into the new school year and it is evident that this has been yet another different year for parents, caregivers, educators and of course, children. The COVID pandemic is still going strong and there are many new protocols within schools that have been put in place to attempt to keep children and families safe. Although they are there to ensure safety, these changes and protocols can be scary and overwhelming for all involved. Let’s talk about some of these stressors and what parents, caregivers and educators can do to help.
Families had to make an often difficult choice between virtual learning and in person learning. Both have many pros and cons and can bring up anxiety for children and teens. These worries might be larger and more intense than past years because of the complexities of the current global pandemic.
Here are some common worries for children and teens returning to school that we have been seeing in our therapy sessions:
- The thought of sitting in a classroom can feel overwhelming after not being around many others for the past school year
- Having to wear masks all day
- The fear of COVID and/or getting sick
- Worrying that they don’t know enough because of the gaps in learning that happened during the lockdown
- Feeling worried about reconnecting to friends that they haven’t spoken to in a while due to being out of school and out of touch with others
- Communication can be overwhelming in general as we have been isolated during the past school year
- For those folks doing virtual learning, there’s worries about turning on their camera and gaining the confidence to participate virtually
- Worries about how to feel connection with teachers and fellow students in the virtual learning space
What can parents and caregivers do to help?
It’s really important, perhaps now more than ever, that parents and caregivers are listening to their children and teens and validating their emotions/worries. Here is a quote that may put things into perspective:
“Validating involves putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and conveying understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them. It is important to accept, allow, and validate emotions that are different from what you expected or that are hard for you to understand.” Steps of Emotion Coaching – Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (emotionfocusedfamilytherapy.org)
To create connections and an open environment for sharing both the positive and the negative, Parents and caregivers can ask questions to their children and teens like:
- How is school going?
- What’s going well?
- What’s been hard for you?
You may also ask questions about what your child is worried about. It’s useful to explore worries in a curious way. Ask lots of questions and really try to understand what’s going on from your child or teens perspective. Here are some examples:
If you child or teen is having difficulty being around other people or connecting to others sometimes the best thing can be to help them gain exposure to being around others in a gentle way:
- Take them out for a hot chocolate and help them practice ordering
- Include them in grocery shopping and checking out with the cashier
- Set up a time to go for a walk outside with another family or friend
Providing education about COVID and mask wearing can sometimes be enough for an anxious mind that is worried about getting sick.
- Talk about what happens in your child or teen’s body when anxiety shows up- name and label those thoughts, emotions and body sensations
- Teach your child or teen about ways to breath to slow down their body (box breathing, paced breathing), or ways to ground when in class (drop anchor, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 game)- lots of short videos are available on Youtube of these strategies and then practice them together
Equally important is for parents and caregivers to recognize and validate their own worries and stressors about this school year, as the effects from this pandemic impact everyone. Do your own wellness check:
- Check in with your own stress level and notice if you’re feeling able to coach and support your child through their own worries.
- Reach out to your own support systems and have open discussions about the things you’re struggling with and that your child or teen is struggling with. Likely other people in your social circle are experiencing similar things. Giving and receiving support is invaluable. It helps us feel less alone and gives us a place to share our feelings.
Our clinicians are skilled and are happy to help if anything you have read here sounds familiar to you. Remember that we have ALL been struggling over the past 18 months. Asking for help is the first step in making positive changes and recovering from the stress of this difficult time.
By Paige Sparrow MSW,RSWLearn More
Nobody Is Perfect. End. Of. Story.
So while you’re at it, abandon perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your family. The house will be messy, people will have to be convinced to bathe, you will eat junk, those long-standing house jobs will not get completed as quickly as you envisioned, if not at all. That’s alright. Go back to the values. I can safely guess that NOBODY came up with “Do All The Things” as their top family value.
Start with today. Look at these tips and take one hour at a time. Take it slow. Be forgiving. You can have do-overs. Each day is it’s own. Motivation will go up and down, moods will set in, energy levels will fluctuate. Find what works and do more of it when you can. Do less of what doesn’t. Know that what works one day will not work on another.
Alternate between doing what works and pushing the comfort zone to try new things, ways of coping and communicating… and then give a high five, regardless of the outcome.
Remember: your family WILL come out of this stronger, more connected and victorious. Surviving will mean thriving.
Recognize that this is hard. These days may seem long. Making all the lists in the world does not help the work get done, the structure implemented and the values applied. Some days will just suck.
Moods, loneliness even when amongst the family, loss or reduction of connections with peers, sports, teachers, co-workers will take its toll. Recognize this and take a break. Pyjama days, Netflix marathons or extra screen time will be necessary. And that is ok. Fatigue will set in. Neither parents nor kids are required to be perfect. Just stop doing for a while.
These days are a gift (even though some days that feels like a stretch). Never before have we collectively had such a large chunk of time where we are ALL at home, without the normal day-to-day pressures being applied. It takes a while to get out of the achievement headspace (I MUST do something, I NEED to do this, I HAVE to get this done). Relax. Forgive yourself. We have NEVER BEEN THROUGH A PANDEMIC BEFORE! This is a choose your own adventure kind of thing!
Keep an eye out for emotions and talk about them. It will not be uncommon for many people (adults and kids alike) to feel sad, lonely, depressed and hopeless. This will happen, even in a house full of people who love us. Encourage connections with friends, co-workers and extended family. Ride the waves of emotions, and remember, that professional help is still out there, offered virtually.Learn More
Team Building: Your family is a “We”. End of story. Even when you disagree, you fight, are hurt or overwhelmed, your family has your back. Talk about how each family member likes and needs to be supported. To borrow from John Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, learn the ways each member of your family wants and needs to feel appreciated and loved.
- Words of affirmation: showing love through how you speak, using words of encouragement, gratitude, positive reinforcement. How you speak to someone who needs words of affirmation can go a long way toward helping them feel appreciated.
- Quality time: Showing love by giving someone your full attention, by making an effort to spend time doing things they love to do. Carving out time shows you are interested and attentive.
- Receiving gifts: Showing love through small tokens of appreciation or gifts, such as a cup of tea, some flowers, chocolate…something that shows that person you know what they like. Making this person feel special will help them know they are in your thoughts.
- Physical touch: Hugs and kisses, hand-holding, a back rub all go a long way for someone who needs physical touch to feel loved and appreciated
- Acts of service: Doing nice things to help the other person out such as unloading the dishwasher, putting gas in their car, taking the garbage out. This person needs help with the overwhelm to know you care.
The biggest mistake most of us make is assuming our partners, kids, friends, etc. speak the same language as we do. We think we are doing nice things to show we care, and they seem to fall flat. That is because we are doing what WE would like to have done for us.
This applies to both adults and kids! Talk about what each of you needs and wants in order to feel heard, special, appreciated and loved! It is amazing how relationships can be strengthened when you speak the other person’s love language.Learn More
Think about how your family communicates. Do you listen to respond, or do you listen to really listen? Think about it.
Learning how to be a good listener means shutting your mouth. Enough said. Try it. Interrupters unite! I come from a long line of interrupters. If you need a “talking stick” (or hockey puck, stuffed animal, etc), get one! Whoever holds the speaking object has the floor.
Next, think about how you show others that you are listening. Do you nod, paraphrase their statements, state your understanding, empathize? The ways in which you show family members that their stories, their experiences, their feelings are important will begin to cultivate understanding, create connection and attachment.Learn More
This is the hard part. Start by acknowledging that NOBODY is perfect.
Parents will screw up, and kids will screw up. When we are hurt, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, we are ripe for screw-ups. Think about this (and teach your kids to as well). When you are feeling like you are “losing it”, ask yourself these HALT questions:
Am I Hungry
Am I Angry
Am I Lonely
Am I Tired
I also add an “O”…Am I Overwhelmed!
If you are any one, a few, or ALL of the above, walk away and don’t try to hash it out. Talk about this, and think about the concepts of emotional regulation and forgiveness. Can you make it acceptable and even encouraged to “walk away” from a disagreement or conflict without being accused of avoiding? Calmer heads prevail. How families manage conflict is a life-long lesson that will foster communication, connection and will serve children well outside of the family.
Are you someone who feels the need to “hash it out” when there is a disagreement, or are you someone who needs to “walk away” and think?Learn More
Take some time to think about the vision you have for your family. Think back to when you looked at your sweet, delicate infants for the first time. I am sure you had dreams for your babies from day one. You jumped ahead to the distant future, picturing them as an astronaut, a physician or a judge. However, once reality kicked in, you knew that you needed to examine your family values and think about how you were going to instill the good habits, self-discipline and other characteristics such as empathy, sensitivity and kindness into that little human.
Then, the small person started to develop a mind of their own. You worked hard all day and had to dig deep to be consistent with applying the rules and guidelines you put in place in order to teach and instill those values. Your little human went to school, and then learned that there were plenty of people out there who did not share the same values, which set up a whole new set of obstacles for raising that well-rounded, self-disciplined, kind and caring human. Oh yeah, then they discovered the internet…
Fast forward to today. We are settling into a new lifestyle. Our world has slowed down, and we are limiting our contacts. Opportunities to re-acquaint ourselves with our families abound. Let’s talk tips for pressing the re-set button in your family and using this time to build strength.
Instructions: Take a half-hour at the dining room table to place these values in the “Absolute, not-up-for-discussion” pile, the “Nice to have, but not on top of the heap”, and finally the “Nice, but not important to us pile”. Next, review the piles, make sure your absolutes are clear and then pick your top ten and rank them. Those, my friends, are your family values.
P.S. If you really want to have fun, have everyone do their list independently and then reconvene to see what you came up with, and THEN figure out your top ten. This may take awhile…however consensus building helps foster co-operation, respect and the ability to agree to disagree.
Once you have your values secure, keep them on the fridge or in a central location. Littles or the more creative among you can create a poster using colour and images. You can frame it and everyone will commit to look at it EVERY SINGLE DAY.
How did you do? Did you learn anything about your family and the values that you hold individually and collectively?Learn More
So here we are, settling into Covid Family Life. This is a time marked with uncertainty as to where this is going, and for how long. Most of us have experienced the roller coaster of emotions associated with this experience. From shock, to sadness, depression, anxiety and back through again. Hopefully, you are moving into accepting this situation for what it is today, and are now thinking about how you are wanting to travel through it as a family.
Ironically, as difficult as this time is to endure, many people have enjoyed the slowed pace and the ability to really enjoy each other, and think about putting some family habits and systems in place that we have lagged on a little. You can do this too! But you need to follow the first guiding rules:
- NOBODY, NO FAMILY, NO PARENT is perfect
- Be forgiving of yourself and each and every member of the family as they adjust to these times and struggle to manage emotions
- Be patient. Change takes time.
Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to provide some tips for helping and even improving your family dynamic during our social (read physical) distancing. We are hoping that this will be a virtual family therapy of sorts. You don’t have to be dysfunctional, riddled with conflict or in crisis to need family therapy! In fact, it is our belief that every family could benefit from using these tips to open conversation and foster connection.