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Teaching Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are flexible and will change as your children grow. You will likely have many conversations about different types of boundaries and why they are important. Be aware of your own boundaries, and make sure you communicate your own needs and wants.

Let your children know they are the boss of their own bodies – Create opportunities for your child to understand that they are in control of how they interact with others and how others interact with them. Never force hugs or kisses, even with relatives. If your child does not want to hug during greetings or good-byes, let them know that is OK, they can wave, high-five, blow a kiss, or simply say goodbye.

Ask for permission before touching children and encourage them to do the same – Model this behaviour. Before reaching out for a hug from a child, niece, nephew etc., ask permission to do so. If the child is very young, or nonverbal, be sure to check in with them and let them know what you are doing and why. For example, “I’m going to button up your shirt, so you will be ready for school”, or “I’m going to rub shampoo in your hair, so you’re clean”.

Be direct about talking about body anatomy – It’s common to rely on cute or silly names when referring to body parts, but coming up with alternate words can send the message that parts of our bodies are embarrassing, or not to be talked about, making it hard to distinguish between safe interactions and safe touch.

Let children know it’s ok to ask for help and help them identify ‘safe’ adults – Teach kids that safe adults listen to what they want and need, and don’t make them feel uncomfortable or scared. Finding safe adults at school, in the community, and extended family members will help build up your child’s network.

Talk early and often – Sexual development is just as important as physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Having age-appropriate conversations throughout your child’s development can help our kids feel more confident and comfortable seeking out honest and open conversations about their bodies, boundaries, and consent.

Emphasize confidence and emotional boundaries – Healthy boundaries often require us to be confident in our own opinions, desires, and needs. To build confidence, children need to learn how to identify what they need, where their limits are, and the types of interactions with which they are comfortable. Talk about emotions and acknowledge your own and your child’s emotions frequently. Ask questions like “How did that make you feel?” or “Why do you think you felt that way?” or “Would you do anything differently next time?”

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