As part of our five senses, the gift of touch is a way we make sense of the world and send and receive messages. But in a world where touch can sometimes be less than innocent, how do we protect our kids especially when we can’t always be with them?
Early years (0-3)
Teaching our kids about good and bad touch is a conversation that we can start from the early years. As you teach your kids proper names for their body parts and things like not walking around naked, you are laying a great foundation for their young minds to learn both social norms and body safety.
At this age, you can also introduce the idea of good touch and bad touch as an easy-to-understand framework that you can build on as they grow.
Good touch can be high-fives, handholding and even hugs from family and friends. Bad touch can be touches that leave bruises (hitting, pushing, kicking…etc) and any unwanted touch from another person, especially in the private areas.
Avoid defining good touch as “whatever makes you feel good” since this can be used out-of-context. Abusers have also been known to exploit this ideal by first starting with innocent tickles, before moving on to sexual abuse.
Instead, first define good and bad touch as areas that can be touched and areas that cannot. An easy visual reference for “no touch” areas is everywhere that’s covered when you wear a singlet and shorts.
Then expand it further by helping to grow your child’s voice. Teach them that they can say no to being touched and to move away from the person or call for help if they feel uncomfortable. Nurture your child’s confidence to say no by also respecting their wishes. Never force them to hug or kiss anyone, even with relatives.
Keep the language you use straightforward and simple:
“Can anyone touch you in a no-touch area? “No!”
“If someone hugs you and you don’t like it, what do you say? No!”
You should also help them recognise the safe adults in their lives, e.g., immediate family members. If there are other adults in that circle, you may also want to define what is allowed and what is not e.g., a teacher can help bring you to the toilet but can’t touch your private areas.
Make it very clear to your kids that no one should show their private parts to them and no one should see or touch their private areas.
Preschool years (4-6)
Your child may be attending daycare now and may need help with toileting so it will be good to run through some specific scenarios with them.
Role-play is a powerful teaching tool for young kids. You may want to go through:
- What’s okay and not okay during shower time at school
- How to get help cleaning up if they passed motion
- What to do if someone peeks at them when they are in the toilet
Find out from the school how they handle these scenarios too to avoid confusion.
Empower them with handles on what to do if an adult does something they are not comfortable with, for example:
Say “I don’t like that”, find daddy, mummy or a trusted adult and tell them what happened, and how they feel e.g., “I don’t like Uncle trying to kiss me”.
Of course, these responses should change if it involves any touching of their private areas. You may want to tell your kids that if anyone touches your private parts, shout “Stop! Go away” and “Help” very loudly.
Consistent repetition of these body safety rules will help them remember it.
You may also want to teach them not to sit on other adults’ laps but to sit next to them instead.
Primary years (7-9)
By primary school age, you can also include the idea of peer pressure when it comes to expanding the idea of good touch and bad touch. Taper your questions according to their level of maturity too. Role-play questions now may include “If your friend says that a boyfriend/ girlfriend can touch each other in the no-touch area, what would you say?”
They may also be exposed to words like “molest” from friends who have had such encounters. To ensure your child knows they can always come and talk to you about anything, never sound suspicious or fear-monger. Instead, communicate calmly and frequently, using movies and news to spark conversations. Listen attentively to them, without jumping to conclusions or judgment too quickly.
Teach your kids that bad touch can happen unexpectedly so they should be conscious of their surroundings, especially when they are alone. Also talk about and role-play what to do if they are unexpectedly touched in a public place.