Touch boundaries in protecting children

It should not make them feel uncomfortable, scared or confused

In Summary

• Listen actively to complaints and reassure them they did the right thing by telling you

Child abuse
Child abuse

In today's society, where values are rapidly changing, it is increasingly crucial to teach children about personal safety. Unfortunately, the rise in concerns about the safety of children cuts across those they trust, such as family members or close friends as well as strangers.

This brings about the need to educate children on the difference between safe touch and unsafe touch, regardless of who it is. The need to speak out immediately and not keep it a secret to safeguard the prey.

A safe touch makes a child feel comfortable, safe and cared for. They come in the form of hugs from parents and close family members, a pat on the back as a sign of encouragement, or holding hands while walking with a trusted guardian.

On the other hand, unsafe touch makes a child feel uncomfortable, scared or confused. It is important for a child to known that their body is their own, and they have the right to protect it, regardless of who is approaching them. Teach them to protect their private parts, physical forms of affection should be limited to certain individuals and done with the child’s consent. Any touch that is intended to cause harm, or is done in secrecy should be stopped immediately.

The best way to prevent unsafe touching is through early childhood education. The Internet and social circle expose children to a lot of information, some of it  misleading. ECDE is best taught by a parent or guardian who has the child’s best interests at heart. Start teaching children about personal safe space, personal boundaries, importance consent and whom to report to in the event of the unforeseen.

Use simple language in regards to their age and their levels of understanding to explain that some parts of their body are private and should not be touched by others. Discuss the consequences in the event of their bodies being violated. Disclose to them what should be their immediate reaction for help. This should be a discussion had in learning institutions as well to create a steady drumbeat. Families and schools should normalise conversations around safe and unsafe touch to ensure that children understand the importance.

Children need to know that it is okay to say no to any touch that makes them uncomfortable, even if it is from a family member or friend. Reinforce that their comfort and feelings are valid and important. Reassure them that there will be no negative consequences when they say no, and no simply means no.

Use age-appropriate words to teach the difference between healthy and unhealthy secrets. An example is that a surprise party is an okay secret to keep, because it will make people happy and will be told at the right time. Secret touching is not okay, or keeping it a secret from their parent, or caregiver will work against them and the prey will do it to someone else.

In the event of an unsafe touch they should react immediately. They should be encouraged to say "No" loudly, move away from the person, and seek help from a trusted adult such as a teacher or parent. They should seek safety first and disclose full details of the unfortunate event.

To help children better understand the process use role-playing scenarios to practise how to respond in situations where someone crosses their boundaries. This can help them feel more confident in asserting themselves.

When a child comes to you with concerns about inappropriate touch, listen actively and reassure them that they did the right thing by telling you. Validate their feelings and provide comfort without any form of judgement.

Let them in on your intended action, explain the steps you will take to ensure their safety. Contact relevant authorities and seek professional help. This reinforces that their safety is your top priority.

Ezekiel Muriithi is the head of communications at Crawford International School

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