Friday, November 18, 2011

GOOD TOUCH/BAD TOUCH- Conversations about Boundaries and Beyond

If you begin having periodic conversations about good touch/bad touch when your children are toddlers, you'll develop an ease discussing boundaries that will carry throughout their teens. 

  • When talking with younger children, keep these discussions brief and age appropriate to avoid overwhelming kids with information beyond their capacity to comprehend.  Tell your kids if someone touches them or wants them to do something that feels uncomfortable, they should tell someone right away. If you aren't around, another adult until they can inform you--store clerks, teachers, and police officers are usually safe people.

father: You know, your body is special.
daughter: Because I'm special.
father: That's right, you're very special. Where are your private parts?
daughter: Under my bathing suit.
father: Yes. What do you know about your private parts?
daughter: Ummm...
father: No one is allowed...
daughter: No one is allowed to touch my private parts!
father: And if someone tries to touch you?
daughter: I tell you or Mom.

  • Teach children to attract attention and scare the perpetrator into retreat. Child molesters usually choose children who can be easily intimidated and manipulated into silence. They count on silence to continue their abuse.

mother: If someone tries to touch you in a bad way, I want you to yell very loudly, "STOP! You aren't allowed to touch my private parts." Can you do that for me?
daughter: Stop. Don't touch my privates.
mother: Louder. Remember you're trying to get people to hear you. "STOP! You aren't allowed to touch my private parts."
daughter: Stop! Not allowed to touch me.
mother: Louder.
mother: Excellent!

  • Include asking, whether your child has been violated. Query in a nonchalant manner and validate the response.

mother: Has anyone touched you in a way that feels uncomfortable?
son: I don't like when Grandma hugs me too tight.
mother: I'm glad you told me that. Grandma loves you and she would want to know her hugs make you uncomfortable. What should we do about this?
son: Maybe you could tell her.
mother: What if we talk to her together on Sunday when she comes for dinner?

In this scenario the mom validates her son's concerns. She empowers him by through inclusion in problem solving; and will model assertiveness and in the discussion with the grandmother. When children have the opportunity to practice establishing boundaries with family members, they are better equipped to respond if they encounter less safe situations. If kids can't assert limits with their loved ones, they won't be able to do so with unsafe people. You can start teaching these important skills with toddlers. Teach your extended family and friends to ask for hugs and kisses, rather than demanding affection. 

  • School age children are able to comprehend that "bad guys" don't look like big scary monsters, they can look like neighbors, doctors, or teachers. You can uses these conversations to discuss bullying and treating others with respect and kindness--another form of boundaries. Role playing remains an excellent means of helping kids understand these concept so they can practice setting limits in a save environment.

  • Tweens can begin to understand respect in boy/girl relationships--not to push others into doing things they don't want to do, not to do anything they feel is uncomfortable, and not to do to anything because they think "everyone" is doing so. Since you've been having regular talks about boundaries, you've already established a basis for conversing about more mature topics.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


One of the worst things parents can experience is learning their children have been molested. Your reaction can help your child heal.

1. Remain calm- Easier said than done, but a crucial first step.  Your reaction sets the tone for how your son or daughter will begin to heal. If your child thinks that you can't handle the disclosure, she will feel shame and guilt both for the abuse and for telling you. This will hamper her recovery. Showing extreme anger or sadness makes children believe they must protect their parents from the abuser. Kids need to know this hasn't destroyed you-- that are strong enough to cope with their abuse.

2. Believe your child- Children, especially young kids, rarely (if ever) misinterpret or lie about inappropriate touch. Unless you have strong evidence to the contrary, assume your child is telling you the truth. Even if you believe your child has been coached and the abuse didn't happen, you need to proceed as if the abuse happened.

3. Praise your child- Your child just did the hardest thing she's even done, going against the perpetrator by disclosing the abuse. Saying, "I'm so glad you told me. Thank you." will demonstrate to your child that she's done the right thing. Reassure child you will protect her and that everything will be all right.

4. Reassure your child- After the initial shock of the disclosure, once you're in control of your emotions, sharing your tempered feelings of anger at the perpetrator, sorrow etc. is important. This will reinforce that your child's innocence. Avoid asking questions like, "You didn't you tell me sooner?" which can inadvertently make kids feel like the abuse was their fault.

5. Report to the police- Avoid doing your own investigation, or asking specific questions, but let your child know that you can handle what happened. This is to avoid impeding the investigation and/or prosecution of the perpetrator(s). Depending on the situation, you may not want to tell your child before calling the police. The police can refer you doctors and therapists familiar forensic investigations and court testimony if necessary.

6. Notify parents of potential victims- Child molesters often have multiple victims, particularly if they are in positions of responsibility like teachers, scout leaders, or coaches. If the police ask you to allow them to do the notification to avoid tainting witnesses, follow-up in a few days unless you believe children are in immediate danger.

7. Notify the molestor's supervisor/employer

8. Seek professional help- Both you and your child may need professional support to help process the abuse, investigation, and prosecution.

Remember, this is not your fault--the responsibility lies with the perpetrator. As a parent, you need to take care of yourself and the pain it has caused you, so that you can be there for your child. Process your reactions with other adults.

Amy Feld, PsyD, MSW
Child Psychotherapist