Boundary setting fosters self-respect, maintains healthy connections, and cultivates a sense of empowerment. In this Parade article, Mindpath Health’s Rashmi Parmar, MD, provides examples and explains why each phrase is helpful to uphold your boundaries.
Boundaries have gotten big lately—at work and in life. Perhaps it’s a silver lining from the last few difficult years, but many have taken the reins of setting boundaries at work and in life—even with parents and kids they would love to do anything for. However, it’s easier said than done, which is why these 35 boundary phrases are so important to know about and practice using.
“Boundaries allow you to define your limits on your space, time, energy, and mental and physical efforts, which are all valuable resources and need to be spent wisely,” says Dr. Rashmi Parmar, MD, a double board-certified psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.
In other words: The cliches about filling your cup and putting on your oxygen mask hold. But you must communicate what that means to other people—they aren’t mind-readers. Setting boundaries can be a tall task, but experts have shared specific ways.
Why set boundaries?
Think self-care is all bubble baths, essential oils, and candles?
“In my opinion, boundary setting should be an important part of your self-care routine,” says Dr. Parmar. “You are safeguarding yourself from difficult and uncomfortable situations when you learn to communicate your needs effectively and wants to other people. In the long run, it will help manage your stress level better and lead to better physical and emotional health.”
“Boundaries help us establish healthy relationships with others,” says Dr. Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT. “When we communicate our limits, we can avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. It also helps to create a sense of mutual respect and trust.”
35 Phrases to Set Boundaries
All of the phrases below are helpful. However, no is a full sentence.
“It’s important to learn to say no to things that don’t align with your values or that you don’t have the time or energy for,” says Dr. Bash. “Saying no can help you avoid resentment and maintain a healthy balance in your friendship. This may include engaging in activities you don’t enjoy or feel good about, lending money, spending more than you are comfortable with, or going places you don’t like.”
2. I need time for myself.
It’s not selfish.
3. I need you to play on your own for some time.
Dr. Parmar suggests caregivers of younger children use this phrase when they have to take care of something else, such as cooking or another child. It gives children the specificity they need and empowers them to do things independently.
4. That is not allowed. What you are doing is hurtful.
This phrase can work for people of all ages but may be especially good for younger children as a boundary and teachable moment.
“Sometimes, young children respond better to concise, direct, and unequivocal communications,” says Dr. Claudia Luiz, Psy.D., a psychoanalyst.
5. Let’s compromise.
Compromise is a hallmark of a healthy relationship.
That said, compromise doesn’t mean overstepping a needed boundary at the expense of your health.
6. I need you to do this first. Then, we can do X.
This phrase helps establish order, Dr. Parmar says. For example, a parent might say, “I need you to finish your homework first. You can play after you are done with it.”
7. While I trust your judgment, I still need you to follow some rules. We can discuss them together.
Dr. Parmar says this makes people feel supported while setting expectations and guidelines.
8. I cannot agree to this. You have to meet me halfway on this issue.
Dr. Parmar says this phrase opens up space for negotiation and problem-solving. She notes it can even be done with children to empower them while identifying things that you, as an adult, will not accept.
9. I need some more time to process this. Let’s revisit this later after I have had a chance to think about it.
You don’t have to rush to a decision when put on the spot.
“By this statement, you are sending a clear message…that you need enough time to make a thoughtful decision and that you cannot do it right away,” says Dr. Parmar. “It helps to be honest about your needs and not feel rushed at the moment, especially when making big decisions.”
10. I know it hurts to hear this, but we don’t like X. We’ve repeatedly asked you to stop. Can you stop? If you can’t, we feel like we can’t continue having you over.
Setting boundaries with loved ones, such as adult parents and in-laws, can be anxiety-inducing. But you deserve to feel happy and safe anywhere, particularly in your home.
Dr. Luiz says that leaning into the idea that “it’s uncomfortable for me” rather than “what you’re doing is uncomfortable” may help manage blows to someone’s ego.
11. We know you mean well, but we are different. Can you respect the difference?
Similar to No. 10, this phrase is less confrontational and implies that the person is doing you a favor by respecting your boundary.
12. This is what I need.
Dr. Bash says clear, concise communication can often be more effective than beating around the bush, particularly in intimate relationships. You may use this phrase when discussing how much physical affection you’re comfortable with or how much time you need for yourself.
13. That is not allowed. What you are doing is hurtful.
Again, sometimes the best route is the direct one—even (especially) with young children, Dr. Luiz says.
14. We have to take turns and share.
“This will teach [a] child the important habit of sharing things with their peers early on,” says Dr. Parmar.
It can also be used with roommates who may need a gentle reminder.
15. I want you to stop this behavior. I understand you are hurt/upset/angry. Let’s help you calm down, and then we can talk about it.
“By this statement, you are establishing a firm boundary of non-tolerance for undesirable behaviors,” says Dr. Parmar.
It validates and teaches emotional identification and regulation when used on a child.
16. It is important that we spend quality time as a family. That is why I need you to stay away from your phone at the dinner table.
If you feel like you’re on different planets during family dinners or date nights, this phrase can help you come back to Earth—together.
“This is an example of a specific request centered around limiting phone use and encouraging conversations with family during dinner,” says Dr. Parmar.
17. I see that you are trying to help me, and I appreciate your concern, but I would like to handle things on my own.
This phrase is firm but polite, and Dr. Parmar says it conveys you’d like to make your own decisions.
This statement allows you to acknowledge their help/ concern before putting your needs forward,” Dr. Parmar says.
18. I prefer not to discuss this topic with you. It makes me feel uncomfortable.
Keep this one in your back pocket for every holiday gathering.
“It lays out a clear line that you are not willing to compromise on your emotional well-being by discussing certain topics that can be triggering or difficult for you,” Dr. Parmar says.
19. I respect what you want, and I understand it. Unfortunately, I am not comfortable yet saying yes.
Dr. Luiz loves this phrase for parents of teens, but it can apply to dealings with people of all ages. She says it conveys respect without anger.
20. We have to fight fair.
People—especially long-term couples—are going to argue. But boundaries exist within those tense moments too.
21. We don’t hit/bite/kick/yell at other people. It is not okay to do that.
This phrase is another good one for parents (although even adults may need a reminder to turn down the volume).
“You are setting limits for not tolerating any aggressive behaviors by direct command and also hinting about a possible consequence for engaging in such behaviors by indicating you are not okay with it,” says Dr. Parmar.
22. I need you to help me.
Though this phrase uses “me,” Dr. Parmar says it’s a variation of a “we” statement that places you on the same team as someone who isn’t doing something you want.
23. I understand you are doing something, but I need you to X.
This phrase conveys that certain things need to be done at certain times, Dr. Parmar says. At home, it may be, “I know you’re busy, but I need you to complete this chore by this time.”
24. I am not comfortable doing this right now. Can we figure out a better solution?
“By saying this, you are asserting that you are not OK with the situation at hand but willing to work with them on a possible solution while being respectful and considerate of their needs,” says Dr. Parmar.
25. I don’t agree.
Like No. 24, this phrase is assertive, says Dr. Parmar. It’s often good to again follow it with an ask to work together on a different solution, which also conveys consideration for their desires.
26. I understand you need my help, but I cannot work on this right now.
Dr. Parmar says being realistic about your time limits and needs is perfectly acceptable.
27. Let’s rethink this option.
Dr. Parmar suggests using this phrase if you need time to think things over or want to discuss something.
28. This is not going to work for me.
Dr. Parmar says this simple “I” statement is direct without being directive, which can feel less confrontational.
29. I need a break.
Regular breaks, including ones throughout a workday, can help you recharge and focus.
And don’t be afraid to communicate it.
30. I’m not available.
Dr. Bash says it’s important to have off-hours at work. Communicate them and stick to them.
31. I understand where you are coming from, but if you break these rules, there will be consequences.
A good phrase to use on children (and a concept to keep in mind for adult-to-adult dealings), Dr. Parmar says that this phrase sends a clear message. She suggests using an empathetic tone.
32. I feel uncomfortable when you do XYZ and would like you to stop or change.
Dr. Parmar likes this direct “I” statement for its no-nonsense approach. Again, it’s not always what you say but how you say it—a firm but kind tone can help manage the blow.
33. I know you think I don’t respect you. Unfortunately, this is how it is right now.
Dr. Luiz says this phrase can be useful with an argumentative person (which tweens and teens naturally are).
34. Let me get back to you on this.
Dr. Parmar says this phrase gives you some runway when faced with a challenging, non-emergent situation.
35. We have a different approach to managing things in our home, and we would appreciate it if you could respect our choices.
“This is a great example of something you can tell your parents or in-laws when it comes to managing your household, whether it is a parenting decision or something related to the home,” says Dr. Parmar. “You are also letting them know you value their input enough to ask for their cooperation.”
It can also work with friends.