Talking About Touch: Is It Okay or Not Okay?

As a parent it is our job to shape and mold our children and guide them safely though this journey we call life. Talking to a young child about self-exploration and appropriate touching versus inappropriate touching is crucial.

Understanding “the Rules”

Many young children up to the ages of 6 or 7 tend to mimic what they see at home or in movies and then re-create that scenario at school by playing “doctor,” kissing or laying on top of one another. Set clear boundaries when you observe this behavior in small children: “I see you and your friend have now seen each other’s bodies, just remember, when we play, we keep our clothes on, okay?” When you notice these activities, pay attention to the reactions of the children: Does someone look uneasy or seem to be pressured into this situation? Feelings of anger and sadness are unusual reactions to this type of behavior. Be sure to ask the children separately whose idea the game was and where they might have seen this behavior before.  Remember, it’s not an interrogation.  We’re simply interested in helping them be comfortable with their own bodies while at the same time setting boundaries and protection them from unwanted touching by someone else.

Getting to the Point

Most importantly, be direct with your child.  Using the correct names for genitals and giving concrete examples of possible scenarios in which your children could find themselves are vital for certain age groups.  Set boundaries when you see your child playing

When talking about inappropriate touching to young ones, it’s also a good idea to teach the word “privacy” and how we can apply that to private parts. Our bodies are our own property. Each person should ask permission before touching someone else and we each have the right to say “no” when it comes to inappropriate physical contact. Remind your children that if at any time they feel uneasy they have the right to say “no.” Learning and teaching them to say “no” is great to demonstrate and practice with them. It’s also a good idea to explain to friends and family members that if your children says “no” to some show of affection, that they should respect that and choose a different method of contact, a handshake instead of a hug for example.

How to Describe Inappropriate?

It is also important to stress to your children that inappropriate touch isn’t only limited to physical contact but also the act of being asked to show or look at genitals. A great way to talk about boundaries with younger ones is by explaining “the underwear rule.” That our underwear is designed to cover our private parts and we should not touch others in those areas nor allow others access to what we have under our underwear. This rule clearly sets up a boundary for children: A hug and a kiss can be a good touch while someone wanting a peek inside their pants or wanting your child to look in his or hers, is a bad touch.

Talking about the difference between good secrets and bad secrets is also key. As many as 90 percent of abused children are attacked by someone they know. Remind your children that good secrets, like someone’s surprise birthday party, make us excited and feel good; bad secrets, like someone touching them, can make us feel ashamed or sad. Encourage your child to share any of these “bad secrets” with you should they come up.

Be a Proactive Parent

Bring up the subject of healthy boundaries and answer questions respectfully and as accurately as possible. Also, take the time to read about age-appropriate sexual development so that when questions come up, we can tell the difference between expected and questionable behavior. By approaching these topics calmly and reassuringly, you make it aware to your children that they can confide in you.

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