Summer is here again – and hugs can be too! Help your child feel safe, secure, and supported as social distancing ends by championing healthy touch and body boundaries.
After a year spent social distancing, many of us may feel nervous about returning to “normal.” Isolation undoubtedly causes stress and anxiety; however, it can also bring about a sense of relief for those of us who cringe at the thought of holiday get-togethers and birthday celebrations filled with hugs and kisses. While children are often expected to greet their loved ones with a hug or a kiss on the cheek, it’s important that your child knows that it is their decision. Discussing body autonomy, healthy touch, and personal boundaries as a family can help your child feel safe, secure, and supported as you reunite with family and friends this summer.
As adults, it’s important for us to let kids have a choice about their bodies and how they use them – this teaches them from a young age about consent and can be protective against sexual abuse. It teaches children that they have the choice and can say no to authority figures, older youth, or anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable. Ultimately, it shows them that their personal boundaries matter and they will be respected.
Having the Conversation
But how do you do this? You might be feeling a little nervous thinking about talking to your children about healthy touch and body boundaries. That’s natural– it can feel uncomfortable or even impolite. It helps to remember that establishing boundaries is the best way to maintain healthy relationships, and by having this conversation now, you are setting your kids up for success in the future.
There are two parts to this conversation. First, have open discussions in your immediate family about what acceptable touching is. Involve your kids and ask them for their opinion! It may help to create a Family Code of Conduct together so that everyone is on the same page, the rules can be easily referenced, and everyone’s opinion feels heard.
Secondly, it’s important that you champion your children’s body boundaries in public. This can feel tricky, especially if your child doesn’t want to touch someone who loves them. So, if you hear things this summer like, “Come give Aunt Debbie a hug,” or “I haven’t seen you in so long, come give your favorite Grandpa a kiss,” and your kid is uncomfortable, show your kid you support them. As the safe adult, you can intervene and politely let your family and friends know that your children decide how they like to show affection. A healthy response might be, “Actually Dad, the kids prefer high-fives.” Check out these three easy action steps you can take in these situations. The truth is most people don’t want to hurt or offend anyone and will respect a body boundary if you tell them about it. However, if they don’t respect your boundaries, consider that a red flag.
At the end of the day, what matters most is that your child feels safe and knows that you will always stand up for them.
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