The Balance Between Being Respectful and Saying

We want children to learn to obey good rules and to respect authority. Tragically, however, there are adults who would abuse a child's trust to harm them. How, then, do we teach children to listen to adults most of the time, but say "no!", when the adult is crossing inappropriate boundaries?

It is important to have consistent conversations with children where you can give them context for when a behavior is appropriate and when it isn't. A recent example of this occurred in my own family when I took my kids to our family doctor. She let them know that she would need to examine them thoroughly and said, "I am examining your private areas only to make sure you are healthy, and it's only okay because your mom is here-otherwise no one should see or touch you there." She not only made the situation at hand clear, she also took that opportunity to remind them that other instances of an adult touching them in private areas would be inappropriate.

Another example could include a child telling you that a friend told them a secret and then telling you what it was. You can listen with interest and also remind them that if anyone ever tells you to keep a secret from your parents, they should tell them immediately. 

Or, perhaps, you have told your child that a friend's parent will be picking them up from school that day instead of you. At the same time, you can let them know that you will always let them know if someone is picking them up, otherwise they should never get in the car with an adult unless they check with you first. There are many opportunities throughout our day to teach children these distinctions; take advantage of them!

A good rule of thumb is to focus on a behavior that is wrong, regardless of who does it. We can remind children to listen to teachers, policemen and other adults in authority who are, for the most part, trying to keep them safe, while still letting them know of some absolutes, including that:

  • If anyone is making them feel uncomfortable, they should always let their parents, or a safe adult know.
  • If anyone tries to force them to be touched or to touch others in an inappropriate way, they can always say no and tell a parent immediately.
  • If anyone tries to get them to keep a secret from their parents, they should recognize this as "tricky behavior" and tell their parents immediately.
  • Actions they know that are wrong, such as lying, stealing, violent acts, etc., are always wrong, even if the person doing them is someone they trust.

It is not a child's responsibility to prevent inappropriate behavior on the part of adults, or to create a safe environment for themselves. That's our job as safe adults! But, we can equip them to recognize and try to resist inappropriate or uncomfortable situations that occur. 

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