child protection, parent resources

Communicating Healthy Boundaries

As a parent or a staff person at a youth serving organization, do you find it difficult to talk with children about their bodies and staying safe? Below please a guideline on how to communicate healthy boundaries.

What do I say? 

Bodies, Healthy Boundaries, and Touching

  • Teach your children the anatomically correct names for their body parts.
  • Teach them that no one should touch their private parts except to keep them clean and healthy.
  • Teach the difference between secrets and surprises, and that touching is never secret.
  • Talk matter-of-factly about private parts.  If your child sees that you are comfortable talking about sexuality, they are more likely to come to you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they have a question.
  • Keep explanations basic and at the level of the child’s age.

Establish Family Rules about Boundaries and Touching

  • Everyone should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, and toileting.  If any adult or child breaks these rules, there should be a discussion with repercussions.
  • Teach your children that they can say “No” to any type of touch, and that their “No” will be respected.
  • Demonstrate boundaries and how to say “No” in your own life.
  • Learn more about establishing family rules from the CDC

What are “don’t’s” when talking to my children about sexual abuse? 

  • Avoid discussing “stranger danger” when talking your children about child sexual abuse.  Ninety percent of the time a child is victimized by someone the family knows and trusts.  Explain to your child that no one, not even a friend of mom or dad’s, should touch your child’s private parts and if anyone does the child should tell more than one safe adult right away.
  • Avoid using the terminology “good touch” and “bad touch,” as this can be confusing for a child.  Sometimes inappropriate touching may feel good, so use words like appropriate, inappropriate, safe, or unsafewhen teaching rules about touching.
  • Try not to scare your child by overwhelming them with too much information at once.  Instead, incorporate family rules and messages about boundaries into your every day discussions about basic safety, this way they will understand that personal safety is as basic and important as other safety rules like “Never play with fire” and “Never play with guns.”
  • Avoid making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed for asking a question about his/her body, private parts, or touching.  If your child asks you a question at the wrong time, let him/her know his/her question is important and address it as soon as you can, or in more appropriate setting.

How do I start a conversation? 

  • Use these suggested reading books to start a conversation about bodies and boundaries.
  • Watch for signs that your child is interested in sexuality.
  • Recognize teachable moments and use these as opportunities to start a conversation.
  • Be an “Askable Adult.”  Let your child know they can ask you anything!

To Learn More:

  • Schedule a workshop about communication in your home, religious center, organization, or at your child’s school.

For additional resources, visit the following websites:

Darkness To Light 

Kid Smartz – a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

 

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