We as parents are, often, at crossroads about how we can talk about good touch and bad touch to children.
“Is my kid old enough to understand this?”
“How do I talk to my child about safe and unsafe touches?”
“Child sexual abuse sounds scary! I don’t want to scare my child.”
Yes, this is an extremely sensitive and tough topic for parents and children.
Yet, it is essential to empower them in today’s scenario!
So, let’s take a deep breath and set on a journey to understand how we can educate kids about safe touch and unsafe touch, why it is important, when is it suitable to start, and what are the different ways.
Understanding the touches
Imagine as a child, when your mom or dad hugged with care, it made you feel safe, right?
Good touch or safe touch is a touch that makes a child feel safe, cared for, and joyful. Bad touch or unsafe touch is a touch that makes a child uncomfortable, scared, or anxious.
It is safe or good when a person wants to display care or help/assist a child with their tasks such as giving a handshake, a high-five, holding hands, hugs (that don’t cause any discomfort).
It is unsafe or bad when the child wants the other person — any touching once or repetitively by a known or specific person that causes discomfort — to stop it immediately. This causes pain or shame.
Touch is a sense and a strong non-verbal form of communication. So, what it evokes becomes an essential way to teach your child to understand them.
Why teach about safe touch & unsafe touch
“It’s there in our environment. And, what better way than making them aware. They’re going to find ways to find out what it is,” points our Vidya Ragu, a psychologist; learning and development specialist.
“So, instead of encouraging them to just go and find it from sources that we do not trust, us parents should take the responsibility on ourselves and give them the right information and make them aware,” she elaborates.
When we speak about good touch and bad touch, it enables your child to
- build healthy self-esteem and self-confidence
- create their body boundaries
- speak out about their bodies and be comfortable with it
- identify any incorrect intentions and inform their parents about it
- become more emotionally aware
Most importantly, it shows kids that their parents are approachable and could feel safe to speak about their discomfort.
“We need to build that level of bonding and communication with a child where they feel safe and comfortable to come back and report to us, to discuss with us, to ask questions, which they cannot ask outside,” points out Vidya.
So, instead of shooing them away or making it a hush-hush topic, it is better to speak to them about it.
Which is the right age to introduce this?
Many of us worry that speaking about safe and unsafe touches can be a complex idea for children.
But, Vidya says, “The very first step is to open up as parents to let go of the myth that they may not understand and there might be a right time to talk about it. In our experience, even a 3-year-old understands. So, there is no right time!”
We can speak about it to children from 3 or 4 years when they can comprehensively understand.
However, we can lay the foundation as early as 2 years when children begin to identify body parts. They are curious about their bodies. It is essential to label their private organs as private and use the right terms to introduce the part.
From a young age, you can emphasize that only the primary caregivers can help them with their toileting needs, and otherwise, no one needs to assist them.
How to introduce safe touch & unsafe touch
Although this is a serious topic, you can talk about this in a simple manner.
i) Keep it casual
One thing, we as parents need to understand is how to push it away from being taboo and have a discussion without being shy. Keep it casual and conversational.
ii) Empowering body talk
When we enable our children to understand that they own their bodies and no one else, it is an empowering thought. “My body is mine and I am my own boss!”
iii) How to say “No”
Help your child understand that they can say “NO!” in different scenarios of unsafe touch or when they are uncomfortable. Allow your child to say “No” and ask them why they said a ‘No!’
iv) Politeness much!
It is okay for your child to not go and hug relatives or people they can feel uncomfortable with. It is okay for them not to go to a new person or any relative. Children often can express who and what makes them uncomfortable, especially touch. As parents, we can give them a choice to say ‘No!’
v) Shout and run
Explain to your child that they can say: “No!”, “Stop!”, “Don’t touch me!”, “I don’t like it!” or simply scream out loud and run. This can seem like rude behavior in any other instant but trust your child’s gut! Screaming and running away can be an empowering move.
vi) No secrets with parents
In situations that involve unsafe touch, often there is secrecy. Sometimes, grown-ups who touch children inappropriately will ask them to keep it a secret. Teach your child to what types of secrets are not good to keep away from a parent. Your child needs to be truthful in these scenarios.
Approachable parenting is the way forward, instead of avoiding this or placing stricter rules.
“We need to encourage them to understand that home is a place where things will be kept a secret and there is no secret between a parent and a child,” says Vidya.
5 ways to teach good touch & bad touch for kids
Communication is the key to building a safe space for children to understand and speak to us.
“Let’s not make it fear-driven. Let’s not make it a very concerning issue for them. Instead, let’s look at how do we do it in fun ways,” says Vidya.
1) Simple Body Talk
When you are introducing or talking to your child about parts of the body, use the correct terms for their private parts. If your child is less than 3 years, tell them that private parts are private. Explain that their body is theirs.
For older children, you can explain body boundaries. How they should respect their bodies as well as others. Briefly introduce the concept of and words associated with safe and unsafe touches.
Introduce them to their safety network. Reiterate that keeping secrets in such scenarios is not okay.
Expect your child to ask questions or seem confused. It is essential to keep the conversation going.
2) Use worksheets
For younger or older children, worksheets can be a wonderful way to teach about body and body boundaries.
When you work with your child on a worksheet, you can ask them to identify different private parts of the body.
There can be a simple coloring activity where the child identifies different parts and you can explain how they can say “No!” when someone touches their private parts.
You can also write down words such as ‘safe’, ‘care’, ‘happy’ to associate with good touch and words such as ‘unsafe’, ‘scary’, ‘uncomfortable’ to associate with bad touch. You can draw emotions to indicate them.
If your child is 3 years or above, you can create ‘my safety sheet’ along with them.
3) Puppet show
The use of props is a wonderful way to teach about parts of the body and private parts.
You can use finger puppets or ice-cream stick puppets to enact safe touch and unsafe touch. Give your child visual cues to identify the emotions associated with the touches.
You can explain different scenarios to explain the touches, words, and emotions.
This makes it fun for your child to learn a difficult concept. You can discuss consent, body boundary, not holding secrets with parents, etc.
4) Enact and show
This works wonders when your child has begun to articulate. For younger children, you can show how they cannot allow someone to touch their privates and how they can’t touch others.
You can also enact safe touch scenarios so that it allows them to know about the different touches and what emotions they feel.
Give your child different scenarios and enact how they or you would feel in such situations.
How they can scream and run when a grown-up tries to touch them or ask the child to touch them inappropriately. This could be someone they know or a stranger.
You can come up with rhymes or songs that help reinforce the concept of safe and unsafe touches.
5) Reading time
Storybooks are a great way to introduce the parts of the body, including private parts; touches; body boundaries; body safety; not keeping secrets.
There is an immense number of books available on these topics. You can also narrate stories on your own.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Some Parts are Not for Sharing by Julie K Federico (6+ months)
- My Body What I Say Goes by Jayneen Sanders (2+ years)
- No Means No By Jayneen Sanders (2+ years)
- A Secret Safe to Tell by Naomi Hunter (3+ years)
- Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Spelman (3+ years)
- My Body Belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes by ICAP & pro Familia (3+ years)
- Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Gail Saltz (3+ years)
- I Said No! by Kimberly King (3+ years)
- Do You Have A Secret? by Jeniffer Moore-Malinos (4+ years)
- It’s My Body: A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch by Lory Freeman (5+ years)
Conclusion: Each child is the boss of their body
Good touch and bad touch is uncomfortable topic for many of us as parents. However, it is pertinent in today’s scenario.
We cannot miss an opportunity to empower our children with the relevant knowledge and what to-dos.
“You really have to go down to their level, make it fun for them to reinforce that every individual has private parts and they’re special for everyone. So, neither they should allow anyone to touch them or hurt them; at the same time, they also should not go and touch and hurt any other individual’s private parts,” says Vidya.
When we are approachable, have open communication, and provide our children with all the love and support, it builds a safer and more secure bonding experience.