Tip #16
Building Boundaries

As you may recall from previous tips, boundary setting promotes the process of resilience; we define it as the ability and willingness to separate from influences that are unhealthy. When someone is able to identify what is unhealthy and toxic but also walk away from it, they are standing up for themselves and their needs. In a sense, they are creating a protective shield around themselves by setting limits. Resilient individuals know their boundaries and rely on them when faced with challenges. Many experts assert that the process of learning boundaries begins in childhood, but it is ongoing and life-long.

There are simple ways to introduce your students to setting boundaries. You can start by asking your students some simple questions: What is a boundary? Are boundaries different depending on the person? Why are boundaries important?

At times the topic of boundaries can be uncomfortable but it’s important to overcome this. Creating a space for these conversations will help your students to define boundaries for themselves. Furthermore, supporting students in identifying their own personal boundaries can be incorporated into formal lesson plans or less scripted classroom activities. For younger students, role playing activities can create opportunities for skill building. For example, you can have your students practice saying “no” to various scenarios.

Modeling boundaries is another powerful way to teach your students to set limits emotionally and physically. While this may seem simple, it can be impactful beyond measure. As a consistent adult in your students' lives, you have the opportunity to model boundary setting on a daily basis. Students are keenly aware of how their teachers interact with their environment. For example, how do you respond when a student uses profanity in a disrespectful way in front of their classmates? By responding calmly and messaging consistent consequences, you are highlighting how to set and respect a boundary.

Learning to set boundaries is a multi-layered process. There is not one single activity or perfect moment that teaches us but rather many activities and moments that serve teachers in helping young people learn how to build healthy boundaries.

Story from the Field

Whenever I hear the word boundaries, I always automatically think of walls. Walls serve many purposes, to keep things in, keep things out, shelter, etc. They can obviously be good or bad. Walls can protect you and keep you safe, but they can also become obstacles to getting where you want to go. I’ve been an educator for 15 years, having taught all my years at Cesar Chavez High School, Sophomore & Junior English Inclusion as well as being the Student Council Advisor. I’ve had 3 Student Teachers and countless interns, always wanting to share what I could for the new wave. I shared my classroom, my teaching practices, and of course all of my lessons. In sharing those things, I broke down a boundary that many other educators put up. In sharing my class, I also share my philosophy of education, which always came down to one thing: BE REAL. Kids can smell a fake a mile away, and the more honest and open with them you were, the better connection you are able to make. If you aren’t real with he kids, they will build up their own boundaries that will never allow for true listening and learning to happen. So I am open and share much with them, beyond just English. It’s a well known fact that we spend more time with these kids than almost anyone in their lives, and we know the impact we have on them. We can build them up with a simple wave and smile, or break them down with a word or a shrug of the shoulder. I have students that come from single-parent households, group homes, and everything in between, so to be that steadying force for them is important. My students trust, and understand, that when they need me, if I can be there, I will be. If I can’t be there, they also know why, the real reason why – and they trust that I am being honest with them.

There are obviously things that I do not, for any reason, share with my students. Why would a student share their inner most hopes & dreams with me if I’m unwilling to share some of those things with them? It goes without saying that there are some lines you cannot cross…never be alone with a student in a closed room, be careful with when and how you contact a student, and so on. So be mindful of those things. Also be sure to remind the students that they are the kids, and you are the adult and you are obligated to report certain things they may share. This is one boundary you cannot bend on. My kids know that and many won’t care because they need help. Make your boundaries safe ones, for you and for them. Above all, remember boundaries become obstacles only if you take your eyes off the goal, and the goal is to help these kids learn, strive, and achieve their dreams.

Salvador Lopez
Employer: Cesar Chavez High School
Job Title: English Teacher/Student Government Advisor

Take Action

Reflect on the following questions:

What are your personal boundaries? How do you vocalize them? How do you respond if/when you receive pushback for upholding them?

Think back on the day with your students. What are moments where you model boundary setting? Are there more ways you can highlight setting limits for your students?