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How to talk with your young child about “good” and “bad” touches

Sarah Swofford, Intern, Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Parenting (CASPP), & Kim Allen, PhD, MFT, Director, CASPP, State Extension Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

 

One of the most important skills parents teach their children is that they have control over their own bodies. As parents, it is important to have conversations about good and bad touches and to teach our kids that they always have the right to say “no” to any type of touch that makes them feel uncomfortable. Teaching children from an early age helps them understand that their bodies are their own and gives them power to seek help if they need it.

How can I teach my child about good and bad touches?

  1. Help your child identify private parts by naming each part. There are many great children’s books to help parents talk with their kids about body parts.
  2. Talk with your child about good and bad touches. Let them tell you what touches feel good, such as hugs and kisses from loved ones, a high five, and a pat on the back. Then explain examples of bad touches, such as hitting, kicking and, sometimes, touching private parts. This is a good time to tell your child that touching their own bodies is fine, but touching other’s private parts or letting others touch theirs is not safe.
  3. Identify which touches are good and which ones are bad. Good touches are those that help the child stay clean, safe and healthy.
    • Cleaning: Tell your child that it is only okay for someone to look at or touch her private parts if that person is helping her stay clean. For example, parents and other caregivers help small children bathe, wipe themselves after going to the bathroom, and change babies’ diapers.
    • Safe: Explain that it is only okay for someone else to touch him on his private parts if that person is helping him stay safe. For example, if your child were to injure his penis, it would be okay for an adult to look and touch him there to keep him safe.
    • Healthy: Tell your child that it is only okay for someone else to look at or touch her on her private parts if that person is helping her stay healthy. For example, at the doctor’s office, the doctor may need to look at or touch her private parts, or a parent may need to insert a rectal thermometer or suppository when she is sick.
  4. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss anyone she doesn’t want to. While this often goes against social norms, you are teaching your child that her body is her own while showing her that you respect her feelings. Children are more likely to be molested by someone they know, such as a teacher, family member or babysitter. Teach your child that respecting adults does not mean they have to do whatever an adult says.
  5. Make sure your child understands that she can always come talk to you if she feels she has had a bad touch, no matter who has touched her.

When talking about “good” and “bad” touches, remember that repetition is the key. As children grow, they remain curious and will need age-appropriate conversations about this topic. The more you talk with your children about their sexuality, the more comfortable they will be coming to you for information. Remind your children that they can always tell you if someone touches them in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable - even if that person is someone who is loved or trusted.

Suggested Script:

“Hi Honey, I noticed you were really enjoying how my tickling you made your body feel. What other kinds of touches feel good to you? (wait for answer) What kinds feel bad? (again, allow child to answer) I’d like to talk with you about good and bad touches to our private parts. There are certain parts of your body that are private, called your genitals. Those parts are called a penis on a boy and vulva on a girl. Our private parts are not for sharing with others; they are just for us. It can feel nice if we touch our private parts ourselves, but it is not OK for others to touch or look at your privates. Of course sometimes grown-ups need to touch or look at you... When you were a baby, I cleaned your bottom and even now if your bottom hurts, I can wash it or put medicine on it. But if someone touches you, and it does not feel good, or if they tell you not to tell anyone, then that is not OK. If that happens, you can always come to me and we can talk about what is happening. It is important to me that you are able to ask me questions. Do you have any questions?”

 

Suggested Book:

Brown, K. & Brown, M. (1997). What’s the big secret? Talking about sex with girls and boys. New York: Little Brown and Company.

 

 

Reference:
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families, No. 9. Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved July 7, 2008 from http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/child_sexual_abuse

 

 


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Last Updated 07/21/2009