Establishing Physical Boundaries

Establishing Physical Boundaries

As a child becomes more mobile, boundaries become so important.

Toddlerwise (pg 30) states “Boundaries are important for a toddler’s development, and in the period between 14 and 20 months, boundaries take on two forms. Physical boundaries, of course, are obvious necessities.

How far can little feet travel, and how much can little hands touch? Physical boundaries play a role in matters of health and safety.

What you allow your child to touch, and where you allow him freedoms to play, are often based on safety concerns first, and learning second.”

pin image how to establish physical boundaries with kids

When to Start Setting Physical Boundaries

In my personal view, setting physical boundaries begins prior to age 14 months.

As soon as my babies are mobile (even crawling) I begin to train them in what they are allowed to touch and where they are allowed to go.

Setting physical boundaries are so important, especially on a daily basis in the home.

How to Start Setting Physical Boundaries

The more consistent you are in establishing the rules for your home, the smoother the household will run.

In our home, we don’t allow our children to touch certain things.

Our phones, remote controls, indoor plants, decorative items, door stoppers, etc.

From around nine months old we begin training our children and help condition them to understand not to touch these things.

We will give a warning instruction (such as “no ma’am no touching the remote”) and remove them from the object.

If they choose to do it again we will usually warn again (depending on their age) and this time say “no ma’am if you touch the remote again you will get a discipline”.

If they choose to do it again we do a light tap on the hand, reprimand (“no ma’am, no touching the remote”) then comfort instantly (“you are a good girl but you have to make good choices!”) and remove from the situation.

I know not everyone feels comfortable using this form of discipline and whatever method is used doesn’t matter as much as the consistency of that method!

How to Set Physical Boundaries with a Toddler

Once my children are toddlers they already understand many of the physical boundaries we have established, but once they start walking it becomes a whole new ball game!

At home I am mindful to give them a limited area to play in and if we are sitting down to do an activity I will put the toddler in a highchair etc so they are confined to a given space.

Even during video time my toddler sits in a buckled toddler chair to enjoy the movie and is not allowed to freely roam the room.

My son is four and is allowed to sit on the couch during movie time and knows not to get up and never moves from his spot because he has been trained to remain seated.

Establishing these rules and boundaries will benefit them once in school as they will be required to sit in their seats at their desks for so much of the day!

Buckled in for video time (with several “friends” of course!)

Seeing the Results from Setting Physical Boundaries

It is amazing what children understand and often times I think we tend not to give them enough credit.

At 19 months old I can show my daughter a physical boundary (such as a line on the driveway) and say “do not cross this line” and she will understand my instruction and know that choosing to cross that line is being disobedient and will result in a consequence.

Being a toddler means that often she chooses to disobey! She is becoming independent and testing those limits and how far I will allow her to go.

I have watched her walk up to a physical boundary that I have established, look at me, then put her little toe directly over the line. She will watch me the entire time to see my reaction. 

When Setting Physical Boundaries, Consistency is Key!

Consistency is so important with a toddler, as is always having a watchful eye.

I am mindful when I set a physical boundary for her to always keep an eye on it and make sure she stays within it.

I believe that having established independent playtime in our daily routine from an early age as allowed my children to understand and accept physical boundaries easier because they are content in a given space.

I wish I had the patience to work on blanket time as I totally think that would be a huge help as well! 

Part of establishing physical boundaries is also teaching children to come when called – be sure to read this post from Chronicles of a Babywise Mom on the topic!

19 months old and still content to play happily in the pack and play for independent playtime!

Setting Physical Boundaries in Parking Lots

When getting into and out of the car I work a lot on physical boundaries with both of my children.

I can tell my son to stand still and not move and he will not budge at all.

This allows me to get my toddler out of the car, put her in the car, load the stroller, etc and not worry about him running off or disobeying.

He is able to stand still so well because I began working on that skill early on.

Now that my daughter is mobile, I am working with her on this. I will tell her to “stay stay stay” and she does!

I make sure when working on this that I’m not distracted in any way (as I wouldn’t want to risk her running off in a busy parking lot!) but I will place her in a spot beside the car and have her look me in the eyes and then say “stand still.”

I will then continually repeat over and over again “stay stay stay stay stay” until I’m ready to allow her to move and then I will shower her with praise!

It is a blessing to have the older sibling with us as he will help congratulate her and make her feel proud for obeying!

Setting Physical Boundaries Conclusion

Establishing physical boundaries are so important for the safety of our children and for our own peace of mind.

As they get older, their boundaries will change and more freedoms will become available to them as they can handle it.

The better they are able to obey, the more you can trust them to do so and the easier physical boundaries become to establish. 


  1. Katie1315
    September 1, 2013 / 12:44 am

    And it's a MUST to have kids who will obey when another baby comes along. It is so nice that I can trust my 2 big ones to hold hands and keep a hand on the car while I get the baby and diaper bag out of the car.

  2. Catherine McEver
    September 1, 2013 / 5:56 pm

    Such a good idea about putting them in a seat for a movie! I never thought about that, and I can totally see how that would be beneficial.

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