Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Appropriate Touch

To begin our dicsussion of appropriate touch I want to illustrate an example of something that happens in many homes. Every time I teach a class, I find it interesting that almost every parent has this happen in their own home. There is no malice behind what I will describe. Usually, it's done in fun and for the enjoyment of the parties involved.

My brother and I were very close growing up. We rarely fought. He loved to play with me. I adored him (and still do). When we had some physical fun, it was usually tickling. I didn't mind being tickled; in fact, I liked it. But there were moments where he tickled with fingers that were a bit too rough. Or, he didn't stop when I said, "Stop!" I was laughing. I was ticklish. Tickling meant I laughed, so I must have been having fun. Usually I was, but there always came a point where I was DONE. I needed to breathe and his fingers were getting too rough in their pressure. My wonderful dad was also this way (again, this is usually done in fun and there is no permanent harm).

Now, as parents, often we tickle our children because it's fun and they laugh. We love their giggles. They like it. BUT, what are we teaching them when they say stop and we don't stop? When do we finally stop? When they plead.


1. You are teaching them that stop does not mean anything. Adults apparently know more than children, so saying stop is futile.
2. You are teaching them that you do not listen when they are requesting them to stop.
3. You are teaching them that you know more about their body and their body's needs than they do. They can't trust their own knowledge of their body.
4. You are teaching them that they are powerless to stop someone's physical affections that they do not like.

If you only look at the bolded words, what are you teaching your child? There is nothing there that I want my children to feel.

Let's translate this into appropriate touch and inappropriate touch. When you teach your child about someone touching them in inappropriate places, you tell them to request that the person, "Stop!" However, if you never stop when they request it, how much faith do they put in themselves to be able to stop someone else from touching them when they don't like it (especially when most people touching a child inappropriately are those that the child knows well and trusts)?

This doesn't mean that you should never tickle your child. Our daughter loves to be tickled, so we tickle her until she says stop. I stop and wait. After she's taken a break to catch her breath, she says, "Again!" Our oldest son despises being tickled. So, I finally asked him one day a way I could touch him that he likes. He told me he wanted me to run my fingers through his hair. I do that for him and tickle my daughter and younger son. Our children know they have control over their bodies. They also know I'm their advocate when other adults are around. Grandpas love to tickle, too. When our son lets his grandparents know he doesn't like to be tickled and they try it anyway, I gently remind them about what he said. I say, "He said he didn't want to be tickled. How about you read a book instead." He knows that I'm there for him, to protect him and help him have control over his body when he's not physically as strong as someone playing with him. He also knows he can tell me if someone touched him in a way he didn't like and I'll listen (even if it's not sexual, inappropriate touch). He expects to be listened to and lets me know when someone didn't listen to him. If your child doesn't like having their cheeks pinched, or playing "This Little Piggy," make sure you let them have a voice. We'll discuss this a little more when I talk about preventing child sexual abuse.

A word about good touch/bad touch:
I personally like to use inappropriate and appropriate touch. I have found, as I've worked with many children, that children have a very difficult time separating a good or bad behavior or touch from good or bad as a person. Children often think they are bad if they are being touched in a "bad touch" place. They also often feel like that area is bad as well. However, genitals are VERY GOOD places and we want them to be associated with more positive words. Also, being touched in your genitals often feels GOOD. Why, then, is the touch labeled "bad?" At our house, we connect inappropriate touch with modesty. We teach that we're modest with certain areas of our bodies because they are so very special and will help create children one day. It's not appropriate for others to touch them right now to keep them special.

(You can also use "okay" and "not okay" touch. I am just very opposed to good touch/bad touch.)

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