Tell your children that personal space should be respected. Explain that sometimes people don't want to be touched, even it’s just a tap on the shoulder. Tell your child that if they don’t want to be touched, they have the right to say no. Mention that if someone else doesn’t want to be touched, your child should respect their wishes, too.
Start the conversation with your toddler, and reinforce the need to respect personal space as they mature. A poke on the shoulder hardly qualifies as abuse, but knowing how to set personal boundaries can help your kids avoid potentially abusive situations in the future.
Make it clear that this applies to all parts of their body, not just their private parts. All forms of touching require consent, including poking, hugging, roughhousing, or hand-holding.
Try using dolls to demonstrate your point. For example, one doll might poke the other repeatedly, and the one being poked could say, “Please leave me alone,” or “Please stop. I don’t want to be touched.
Teach your child about private body parts early. Explain what private parts are to your toddler or preschooler. Tell them that no one should see or touch their private parts other than you, another caregiver, or a doctor. Make sure they understand that a doctor can check their body while you’re there, but no one else should touch them, even if they say they’re a doctor.
Tell them that it's okay for you or their babysitter to change their diaper, bathe them, or help them change their clothes, but that's the only time anyone should see their privates.
Using proper terminology, such as penis and vagina, can help make discussing private parts less embarrassing. Feeling comfortable using these words might help your child talk clearly if something does happen.
Makeit clear that it is never okay to hurt others. Explain that hitting, pulling hair, kicking, biting, and pushing are not okay because they hurt others. Be firm, and correct your child if they physically harm someone else. Tell them that if someone tries to hurt them, or if they see someone hurting another person, they need to tell an adult about it.
While kids might wrestle or roughhouse, you should supervise them, remind them to be gentle, and intervene if they start hitting, biting, scratching, or otherwise get too rowdy.
Make it clear that they need to stop playing if the other person wants them to stop. Explain that there’s a difference between consensual roughhousing, like contact sports, and non-consensual abuse, such as hitting someone who wants to be left alone.
Intervene if your child doesn’t enforce their boundaries. From around the age that they can talk, let your child choose whether they want to be hugged, kissed, or held by others. Give them a chance to speak up if they’re uncomfortable, but step in if they struggle with it or if the other person ignores them.
For example, say, “Stella, stop playing with Mariana’s hair. She asked you twice to stop it, and you need to respect that,” or “Nana, I’m teaching George about setting boundaries. If he says he doesn’t like kisses on the cheek, then please don’t kiss him on the cheek.”
Likewise, offer your child specific praise when you see them setting their own boundaries. Let them know, "I really liked the way told Nana that you're not comfortable with kisses on the cheek. That was very brave of you!"
Encourage your child to be assertive. When your child enforces their boundaries, say, “Good job telling your brother what you wanted,” or “Thanks for telling me that you don’t like to be hugged while you're eating.” This lets your child know that it's a good thing to speak up when they’re uncomfortable.
Additionally, try having your preschooler or early grade school-age child order their own food at restaurants, or count the change you receive from cashiers at stores. Giving your child a sense of agency can help empower them to enforce their boundaries
Tell your child that they shouldn’t keep secrets from you. Explain that a grown-up or another child shouldn’t ask them to keep secrets from you. Mention that it’s especially important to tell you if someone asks them to keep a secret about touching, hurting, or bullying.
Say, “If a grown-up or another kid touches you, hurts you, or makes you uncomfortable, and tells you to keep it a secret, get help. Tell me, a teacher, or another nearby grown-up.”
Additionally, let your child know that they should tell you if someone else has been touched, hurt, or bullied.
Establish and respect privacy rules in your home. Make it a house rule to knock before entering bedrooms and bathrooms. If your child is old enough to dress themselves, allow them to dress and undress in privacy.
Setting privacy rules at home can help reinforce the need to respect boundaries.
Help your children better understand privacy by using it in context to demonstrate times when privacy is socially acceptable. For example, you may say you need some privacy when going to the bathroom.