By Eleanor Beeslaar
Talking to children about boundaries is an essential part of establishing safety and helping them develop the skills necessary to set and maintain healthy boundaries throughout their lives. It is important to start these conversations as early as possible and keep an open line of communication over time. Teaching kids about boundaries is also a cruicial part in preventing child abuse. In honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month, we will be sharing information and tips about talking to children about boundaries, including how to talk about the challenging topics of consent and abuse.
Teach your kids that their body belongs to them. A key element in teaching children about healthy boundaries and consent is empowering them to have autonomy over their bodies. Teach them that they have power and control over who they share physical touch, such as hugs, kisses, tickling, and high fives, with. It is critical to teach kids that if they are uncomfortable, they have the right to say “no,” and it is the other person’s responsibility to listen and stop immediately.
Talk about body safety and appropriate vs. inappropriate touch/behavior. This involves talking to kids about their bodies, including “private” areas. Be sure to use the correct anatomical terms when having these conversations, especially when discussing genitalia, as this keeps kids from getting confused and ensures that adults will understand if they reach out for help regarding abuse. For younger children, you can use the bathing suit rule to help talk about appropriate vs. inappropriate touch. You can explain that it is only okay for parents, teachers, babysitters, or doctors to touch you in these areas when they are helping you go to the bathroom, take a bath, or during a check-up. It is important to be clear that the touch should be quick and only for those reasons. Be sure to tell your children that if they ever feel uncomfortable in these situations, it is important to tell a trusted adult, and that if anyone else touches them in these areas, they should tell an adult right away. A key part of talking about appropriate vs. inappropriate touch is telling kids that any type of touch that makes them feel uncomfortable is not okay. The body safety conversation also involves talking about inappropriate behaviors, such as adults asking kids to keep secrets, making inappropriate comments, taking or showing sexual pictures, etc. Use examples and be clear and concrete when having this conversation.
Talk about consent. It is important to start the conversation about consent at an early age. Talking to children about consent can empower them to feel in control of their bodies and can help prevent child abuse and sexual assault. A great way to talk about consent with kids is to explain that they have the right to decide what they are/aren’t okay with regarding personal space and physical touch. If they are uncomfortable with how close someone is to them or with physical touch, such as hugging or tickling, they have the right to communicate those limits to others. Another key element in teaching children about consent is letting them know that they have the right to say “no” when they are uncomfortable with something. It is also important to teach children how to ask for consent. Using concrete examples can help make this concept easier to understand. For example, if they want to give someone a hug or a high five, they should ask first instead of assuming that the other person will be okay with it.
Identify trusted adults. A great way to take a preventative approach to child abuse and ensure your child’s safety, is to work with them to identify trusted adults other than you, with whom they can share fears and concerns related to unwanted physical or sexual touch.
The conversation about consent and boundaries is ongoing and changes as your child gets older. We encourage you to keep an open line of communication about these topics as your child grows. We hope today’s blog has helped you better understand how to talk to your child about boundaries, consent, and safety!