Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Practicing Boundaries For The Holidays

The holiday season is a fantastic time to give gifts, relax, eat, and enjoy the companionship of your friends and family. For families with children, it can also be a time of preventing child sexual abuse- before it happens. Yes, you read that right.

The holidays are a time when families with children have relatives over, and what child has never heard something like, "Give uncle Bob a hug!" Or maybe, "Snuggle with grandma." Chances are, most children have been told, at one time or another, that it is appropriate to ignore how they are feeling and show affection or receive... even if they do not want to.

While showing or receiving unwanted affection may seem harmless, this can violate a child's right to their body, as well as interfere with their ability to create healthy boundaries for themselves. It can teach them the message that if an adult asks them to do something, they have to do it, even if they do not want to. It can lead a child to believing that they have to show or receive affection when asked, even if they are uncomfortable with doing so.

Why is this a bad thing? Because without these boundaries in place, a sexual abuser or potential abuser will not raise any flags by grooming the child, or by being sexual with the child. If the child cannot say no to minor things like a hug, tickle, or snuggle, they also cannot say no to major things like a pat on the chest, a grope on the buttocks, or being unclothed. A child who has healthy boundaries can more easily spot when someone is breaking those boundaries and tell a trusted adult.

So, stay safer this holiday season: If you are around children, and you want them to hug you, stop and ask first. Ask them, "Can I give you a hug, or would you rather I didn't?" Respect their response, and regardless of what they say, respond with, "I want you to be able to be honest with me. Thank you for telling me how you feel." There will be other times when they will want hugs, and they will value for life the boundary skills you are teaching them.

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