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Teaching Moment: Teaching Your Kids Appropriate and Inappropriate Touching

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 8:01 AM

Stranger danger and sexual abuse is a topic that makes kids and parents uncomfortable. It is a difficult conversation to have, but one that is necessary. Not talking to your child can make him or her more vulnerable for a sexual predator.

Leslie Noble, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, suggests talking about this with children as soon as they are developmentally ready. With the average age of sexual abuse being 8 or 9, it is best discussed before then.

One way to approach this topic is to frame it around safety rather than abuse, suggests Dr. Noble. Think of the dialogue used in the dangers of crossing the street or not touching a hot stove and frame this conversation like that – focus on the safety aspect.

Dr. Noble recommends these guidelines:

  • Use the bathing suit rule. It is also known as the “underwear rule.” Teach your children that anything covered by a bathing suit or underwear is a private, personal area. Make sure children are aware that if they feel uncomfortable when someone touches them near their bathing suit area, then it’s not okay.
  • Use the right language. When talking about private parts, make sure to use the proper language. Using the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ will reinforce exactly what you are talking about and not confuse them.
  • Teach them the difference between good and bad touch. Going back to the bathing suit rule, let them know that if someone puts a hand under their shirt or underwear, that is bad touching. Also mention that flashing or peeping is inappropriate. Highlight what appropriate touching is – such as hugging Grandma or Dad giving baby a bath. Make sure to also use scenarios for inappropriate touching such as their friend’s brother wanting to see what is in their pants. Remind them that if no one can touch them there, they are not to touch anyone there.
  • Remind them that secrets are bad. Many predators try to use the angle that this is a secret and if they tell Mom or Dad they could be in trouble. Creating a “no secret rule” in the family will allow for open communication. Instead of using the word “secret” for a good secret, try using “surprise.” This will help children differentiate between the bad secrets and good surprises.
  • Strategize with them. When creating the open communication with your children, make them aware that they can tell you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable without getting in trouble. Think of a third-party person with whom the children feel comfortable talking to and can tell if they are afraid to tell Mom and Dad. This third party person can be a teacher, a neighbor or friend’s parent.
  • Make them feel safe. After having this conversation sometimes children don’t want to hug their aunt goodbye or kiss Grandma on the cheek. Do not force them, rather support them. Make them aware that they still need to show respect and instead of hugs or kisses, they can do handshakes, high fives or wave.

If you find this topic a difficult one to approach, ask your pediatrician for advice or help having it.

How old were your children when you had this teaching moment?