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PLAYING: Investing in your relationship with your pre-schooler: Having healthy boundaries as a parent

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Investing in your relationship with your pre-schooler: Having healthy boundaries as a parent

5 mins to read May 10, 2022

As parents, when we set boundaries, we let everyone in our family know what they can and cannot do, what they can expect from each other, and what we as parents view as acceptable and unacceptable in the relationships between family members.

Successful farmers set up fences and gates to manage the flow of activity on their farm. Similarly, the boundaries that we set as parents serve to protect the energy and prioritize the time and wellness of all the family members.

Our boundaries reflect our values.

By setting certain boundaries and not paying attention to others, we teach our children about who we are and what we regard as most important. As a result, our boundaries – or lack of boundaries – instil certain basic values in our children.1

Psychologists say it’s important to be intentional when we set boundaries.

This means that we need to be intentional about our beliefs and expectations, so that our boundaries can reflect our true convictions and needs.2 Here are a few examples of questions that can help in this regard:

  • How much time do you believe a good parent should spend actively engaging
  • with their pre-schooler to support their optimal development?
  • What are your views on the importance of play versus screen time?
  • When should a good parent make themselves available for their child?
  • What should my child be expected to do for themselves at this age?
  • What is my child’s “love language”? (To find out more about love languages, please see the references below.3)

When it comes to setting boundaries, there are three types of parents.4;

1. Parents with healthy boundaries are more successful.

Their family life is characterized by predictability and order. They can say “no” to their children when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up emotionally so that they can listen to the entire spectrum of their children’s feelings when they don’t agree with certain limits or rules, without dismissing or punishing them for expressing undesirable emotions.

2. Parents who have rigid boundaries always seem to keep their children at a distance (whether emotionally, physically, or otherwise).

When these parents have too much on their plate, they tend to draw boundary lines too strictly and lay rules on too thick. They frequently fall into the trap of focusing solely on their own needs and acting as if their work, privacy or personal interests are more important than emotionally connecting or spending time with their children.

This makes their children feel insecure and disconnected because they’re getting the message that their parents are unloving, unwilling to work through things, manipulative, or blatantly using rules to escape their children.

3. Most modern-day parents have what psychologists refer to as “loose” or “porous” boundaries.

It’s a common belief today that good parents need to constantly be at their child’s beck and call - ready and willing to do whatever the child asks. As a result, many parents feel as if they’re always doing things for their children, always giving in to whatever they want and never saying no. They feel guilty because, although they may love their children more than anything, they often feel resentful, drained, and trapped.

These are the “helicopter parents” who don’t teach proper independent play skills and continue doing things for their children that they should be doing for themselves. They feel as if they must come up with a solution whenever their child is bored, and they act as if somebody (or a screen) should always be in charge of entertaining or “stimulating” their child.5

They also tend to accept disrespect from their children and feel anxious when they need to say ‘no’ because they fear their children will no longer like them and view them as being mean and reject them.

Practical tips for creating healthy boundaries as a parent.

1. Start by teaching your child the most important social lesson.

According to Dr Burton White, founder of the Harvard Preschool Project, children are far more likely to respond positively to limits and rules when they have learned following core lesson: I am extremely precious and loved and my needs are very important, but I am no more precious than anyone else in the world, nor are my needs more important than those of other people, especially my parents.6

2. Explain boundaries to your pre-schooler in terms of “rules”. The word "boundary" can be difficult to understand, so it’s a good idea talk about "rules".

For example, when you introduce a new boundary, say: "Mommy is going to play with you every evening after dinner for...amount of time...after we’ve cleared the table. That's my new rule." Or: "We’re going to have a new rule at bath time. I’ll set a timer when you get in and it will tell us when you have 5 more minutes. That’ll give you some time to wrap up what you’re doing. You can help me choose the song that will be playing when it goes off.”

3. Provide open-ended toys and tools for the blocks of time in which your child will be expected to keep themself busy.

Consider providing items such as construction sets, a tricycle or scooter, toy cars, dolls, building blocks, a child-sized table and chair, crayons, paper, children’s scissors, playdough, picture books to page through and puzzles to build. (Also, bear in mind that keeping these resources organised is a perfect chore for pre-schoolers.)

4. Keep a few short 5-minute activities and games up your sleeve.

Children feel special and valued when their parents sing songs or recite nursery rhymes with them in the car or whenever an opportunity arises. They also love playing impromptu games like “I spy with my little eye” or card games (that their parent brought from home) while waiting to be served in a restaurant. As parents, when we take time out to have fun with our children in small ways, we demonstrate to them that we enjoy having them in our lives.

5. Be consistent and follow through on consequences.

Children have a deep-seated emotional need for boundaries and they feel safe and secure when we as their parents are confident and steadfast in our conviction. Our example also prepares them for standing their ground one day as teenagers, when someone tries to persuade them to do something that oversteps their personal boundaries.

NESTLÉ® NANKID® 4, made specifically for 3-5 year old children, contains Omega Smart, which is a unique source of Omega-3 (with DHA*) and Omega-6 fatty acids that are blended in the correct ratio for young children.

NESTLÉ® NANKID® 4 would like to celebrate and support you as an engaged parent.

We are ready to provide you with a milestone reminder tool that is available to the parents of 3–5-year-olds, free of charge.

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One of the priorities of purposeful parents is to prepare their children for setting their own personal boundaries as teenagers and adults.

To support you in this regard, we’re providing you with downloadable paper houses that can be assembled and displayed in your house to serve as a reminder of six important values that can help steer children in the right direction as they formulate their own personal boundaries.

Please follow this Download Here to download your craft.

*Docosahexaenoic acid.

IMPORTANT NOTICE. NESTLÉ® NANKID® 4 is not a breastmilk substitute and is formulated to support the changing needs of healthy children older than 3 years.



1.    Soghomonian I. Boundaries - Why are they important? [Internet]. The Resilience Centre. 2019 [cited 8 April 2022]. Available from:

2.    Kaiser Institute. Creating more intentional boundaries [Internet]. Kaiser Institute LLC. 2020 [cited 8 April 2022]. Available from:

3.    Cornwall G. The 5 Love Languages of Children [Internet]. Parents. [cited 8 April 2022]. Available from:

4.    Therapist Aid. What are Personal Boundaries? [Internet]. Therapist Aid LLC. 2016 [cited 8 April 2022]. Available from:

5.    Bennett C. What is Helicopter Parenting and Why is it Bad? [Internet]. News Medical Life Sciences. 2018 [cited 8 April 2022]. Available from:,child's%20cognitive%20and%20emotional%20development

6.    White B. Raising a Happy, Unspoiled Child. New York City: Touchstone by Simon & Schuster; 1995.