One of the most important things we can teach our children is that they are in charge of their own bodies. Children need to learn early on about healthy boundaries. This may seem like a simple concept, but many parents shy away from these conversations.
For some parents, discussing private body parts can be awkward and uncomfortable. Many also do not know when they should start having these conversations or how to make them age-appropriate. I mean, how do you communicate consent to a child who is still developing their vocabulary?
This may be one of the hardest things you do as a parent, but starting these conversations and carrying them through your child’s development is essential in helping them establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
Because you are not alone in this journey, there are many resources available to help you through the process. Here are suggestions on how to approach your child’s body parts and setting safe boundaries.
Use appropriate words
Language can either empower your child or inhibit their ability to communicate. It may be easy to come up with nicknames for your child’s private body parts, but this can lead to confusion and create an inability for your child to communicate if something has made them feel uncomfortable. Using made-up nicknames also conveys the idea that these parts are somehow shameful. You might not feel as though these words are age-appropriate, but they are the correct terminology for their body parts.
Empower them to take ownership of their body
Support your child by not forcing them to do something with their body that they do not want to do. Your child should be aware that they get to decide who they share hugs and kisses with or know that it is okay to tell someone they do not want to be tickled.
When touching is OK
Discussions about ownership over the body can also be a great way to begin discussing consent. Talk to your child about which of their body parts no one is allowed to touch or see without their permission. The manner in which you deliver this is very important to help your child distinguish that there will be some people, like doctors, who may need to look at or touch these body parts.
Don’t shame body curiosity
Children find endless fascination with their bodies – the sounds, what comes out of them, and the exploration that occurs when the diapers come off. It is not uncommon for young children to touch themselves or shed their clothing. This is all part of healthy exploration, so the last thing a parent wants to do is set their child up to feel shame over what they are experiencing with their body. If you have worries that your child’s behavior with their body is unusual or otherwise concerning, speak with a professional to explore what might be a child’s healthy curiosity and what might need further attention.
If you are looking for additional help to guide you in conversations with your child, the following books are recommended by our team of therapists.
- “My Body Belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes” The Safe Child, Happy Parent Series
- “I Said No!” A kid-to-kid guide to keeping private parts private
- “My Body is Special and Private” – Recommended for 2 years old and up
- “Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent & Respect” Teach children about body ownership, respect, feelings, choices and recognizing bullying behaviors
- “My Body, What I Say Goes!” A book to empower and teach children about personal body safety, feelings, safe and unsafe touch, private parts, secrets and surprises, consent, and respectful relationships.
Contact Creative Counseling Center