Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW


How to Set Boundaries with Family

PUBLISHED May 12th, 2021 & UPDATED ON Nov 23rd, 2022

Learning how to set healthy boundaries is hella important in any personal relationship! But when it comes to family boundaries, things can get a little tricky. Sometimes parents just take your help or affection for granted… like you owe it to them because they raised you (which is defs not the case). And trust us, we know just how uncomfortable family can make us, even though we constantly get phrases like “they’re family, you HAVE to love them” thrown in our faces. You deserve to have your wants and needs respected when it comes to what makes you comfortable! 

If you’re not quite sure what exactly a boundary is at the moment then our in-house mental health professional, Natalie Asayag, can help! She describes it as “a clear line, or limit, you draw with those in your life to maintain healthy relationships with the intent that you don’t feel overextended or taken advantage of.” These can be set at ANY time, but unfortunately, you have to make them known. It’s not as easy as just sending someone a mental signal not to do the thing (but, oh how we wish it was).

It’s important to know how to set boundaries with friends, how to set boundaries while dating, and how to set boundaries in relationships, but for right now, we’re going to focus on how to set boundaries with family! So, whether it’s your parent, sibling, cousin, your own kids…whoever, we’re here to help you clearly lay out what is and isn’t okay! Along with some helpful blanket phrases that you can customize for whatever situation you find yourself in.

Types of Boundaries 

There are 5 main types of boundaries that affect how safe, validated and respected you feel! It can be very difficult knowing how to set boundaries with family. But setting boundaries with parents or boundaries with kids (and everything in between) is VERY important if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with each other.  

It’s soooo easy for family to cross the line because they sometimes have the mentality of “Oh, you’re family, so you pretty much have to bend over backwards for me.” Ummmm, not the case. So, to keep your mental wellbeing WELL, feel free to use the following tips whenever a scenario like that one pops up!  

1. Physical Boundaries 

Your physical boundaries are all about your body, physical touch, and personal space (yeah, privacy counts too). Anything from that awkward cheek pinch your weird aunt gives you during the holidays to your parents snooping through your room when you’re not home. And guess what? You have a right to say no to alllll of those things because they’re an invasion of your space! That’s where the physical boundaries come into play.

So, if you need some examples for what to say in those situations, we’ve got you covered! 

“Please ask me before you go into my room.” / “Please knock before coming in.”  

“I don’t like being touched like that, please stop.” 

“Don’t go through my diary, it’s personal.” / “Don’t go through my phone.”

“Please don’t share what I just told you with anyone.” 

“I don’t want a hug right now, I need some personal space.” 

2. Emotional Boundaries 

When we talk about emotional boundaries we’re talking about your feelings. Whether they’re taking their stress out on you, expecting you to always listen to them, or just shutting down how you feel altogether, it’s not okay. You need to recognize when your feelings and emotions are at capacity before you burn out at the expense of others (and we defs don’t want that)! It can be suuuper hard to be vulnerable and talk about what’s going on in your head, but you have to if things are going to get better. 

You’ve gotten SO used to just taking heat from your family, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some ways you can voice your emotional boundaries…

“Right now, I just need you to listen. I’m not really looking for advice.”

“It’s hard for me to open up to you when you say my feelings aren’t valid.”

“We’re both pretty on edge right now, so let’s talk about this later when we’ve both calmed down.”

“I’m sorry you’re upset, but please don’t take it out on me.”

“I don’t have the emotional capacity to talk about this right now. Can we chat later?”

3. Material Boundaries 

You may have had the all-too-common stolen clothes debate with a sibling before, and that’s a prime example of a broken material boundary! Sometimes you just don’t feel like sharing. Maybe that shirt was very expensive and you don’t want it ruined. Or, maybe you have an issue with someone else driving your car! And that’s totally okay, you just have to let them know what’s up. 

So, here we go again! Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! 

“Please don’t go into my room and take things without asking.”

“Those leftovers are mine so please don’t eat them.”

“I budgeted for my groceries this week, so please leave my food alone.”

“Please don’t use my laptop when I’m not here.” 

“If you’re going to take my car to work, please fill the gas tank for me.”

4. Intellectual Boundaries

You can almost tell time by the fights about politics or religion during the holidays. Those are some hefty topics and they usually cause some pretty heated debates. You and your family might not have the same beliefs and that’s okay! But what’s NOT okay is when you get ridiculed for having those different beliefs. Whether it’s your level of education or just a specific worldview, you’re entitled to your opinions — and so is your loud uncle.

Wondering how to set boundaries with family in this situation? Here are some things you can say to de-escalate that argument before it starts, rather than just playing a game of “who’s right?”

“We clearly have very different views on this topic, so let’s just agree to disagree.” 

“Things are getting pretty heated so let’s drop it before it turns into a fight.”

“I don’t want to argue with you. Let’s talk about this later.”

“I see where you’re coming from, but I have a different view of this situation.”

“It’s supposed to be a happy occasion, let’s talk about happy things instead.” 

5. Time Boundaries 

Boundaries involving your time and energy are probably the most crucial because your family tends to think you owe it to them. But you don’t! You have a right to schedule your time based on what you have going on, especially since there are only so many hours in a day! You have enough work and projects on the go, and sometimes you’re just toooo drained and overwhelmed to take on more (we’ve been there, too). So, assess what you need and go from there.

Oh, and use these bad bois when you just can’t adjust your time to someone else’s needs!  

“Please don’t call me when I’m working, I need to concentrate.”

“I can’t help you with that yard work today, I have too much on my plate.”

“Today was hard, so I’m going to my room for some alone time. Please don’t disturb me.” 

“I don’t have time to pick this up for you, but maybe this person can.”

“Instead of spontaneous plans, why don’t we designate this night as family night?” 

Knowing how to set boundaries with family, and actually setting healthy boundaries, can be hard…we defs get it. Buuut the importance of your mental and emotional wellbeing is clutch! And it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes — ‘cause let’s be honest, you’ve probably already spent enough time putting your fam first!


Read More: 8 Tips to Work Through Your First Date Nerves, Coping with Infidelity: How to Heal After Being Cheated On,