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The Difference Between Affection and Inappropriate Touching

The cover of Wright's book, When Touching Hurts. Click to order.

If you have a young boy, I’m sure you’ve seen it–he’s with his friends and they’re running around, punching each other in the crotch, thinking it’s funny. I’ve tried to explain to my own son that this is wrong, that he shouldn’t touch others in their “privates.” That we’re nice to our friends, we hug them, show them respect. To which he blankly looks at me in return. So how do you explain to a child what the difference is between affection and inappropriate touching, or even worse, sexual abuse? Caffee Wright, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Juvenile Sex Offense Counselor and author of When Touching Hurts, gives advice.

How can you explain the difference between sexual abuse and affection?
Sexual abuse is when someone does something sexual to another person without their consent, or the person may consent and is not legally old enough to consent. Sexual abuse is usually seductive, coercive, and exploitative. Affection produces a fond or tender feeling where sexual abuse usually leaves feelings of shame.

How can we explain to our kids what inappropriate touching is?
Children need to understand boundaries and know that their private parts are private. These areas are their vagina, breast, chest, penis, and anus. It is important to empower children and help them understand that their private parts are theirs and others do not have a right to touch on their private parts.

At what age should we start talking to our kids about this?
When children are old enough to verbalize, it is important to talk to them on their level about their bodies and use the correct names for their body parts. Usually children are able to verbalize with understanding around ages four and five. Depending on the cognitive development of the child, parents can talk to children who are younger. The conversation does not have to be complicated or lengthy. When a parent is giving a child a bath they can play a game of naming their body parts. Once the parent washes the breast area they can say, chest and when the parent washes the child’s penis, the parent can say penis, and say, only mama touches your vagina when she is cleaning you. No one else should touch your penis.

How do we explain to our children that inappropriate touching can come from anyone—from friends to babysitters to grandparents?
By explaining to children that no one should touch them on their private parts even if it is someone they know and even if they love the person, parents empower children and give them power and ownership of their body.

One of the things that I personally have struggled with, is how to tell my children when it’s okay and when it’s not okay for them to be touched. For example, if Grandma is giving them a bath and washing their private areas, that’s fine, but in the next breath I say that they need to come to me if anyone touches their private areas. How are they supposed to tell the difference?
For young children it is important to explain who can touch them and why that person can touch them because children are concrete learners. After parents have explained touch with their children, they can use a doll to show where it is and is not ok to touch. A parent can ask their child is it ok for someone to touch you here, pointing to different areas on the doll and so forth.  Firstly, parents should explain that there are times when they need a “clean up or a check up” and their private parts may need to be touched, but they need to know who can give them for a clean up which is a bath. If they have to go to the doctor for a check up it is important that they know that a parent will be in the room and this type of touch is ok.

Is this a topic that we should continually be discussing?
Talking about boundaries and touch should be ongoing. Children will give parents many opportunities to talk about good, bad, and secret touching. When a child hits another child, parents can tell the child this is an example of a bad touch. A bad touch is when you hurt another person by hitting them physically. When a child hugs another child, parents can say “I like the way you gave Jennifer a good touch.” When parents have an open communication with children, and they feel comfortable talking about their bodies and their feelings, they will in turn let parents know when they do not like the way someone touches them, looks at them, or how they feel around certain people. So, communication is the key.

I’ve seen my 6 year old son and his friends punch each other in the crotch area. I explain that this is not where we touch people—it’s their private area and it can hurt them. Is this enough information, or should I explain it differently?
Children need to understand that any touch that hurts, is inappropriate. Parents are the best teachers related to boundaries and touch.

If we catch our child “experimenting” with another—looking at their body parts, touching, etc, how should we handle it?
Children are curious about their bodies and sometimes children who are nearly the same age or the same age may experiment with another child by looking at each others private part. It is important for the parent to remain calm and use the situation to correct and educate the children. Also, recognize that this is part of children’s curiosity about their bodies.

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About Caffee Wright: Caffee Wright is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a National Certified Counselor,  Certified School Counselor, and a Certified Domestic Violence Counselor. She is the owner of The Counseling Group where she provides counseling services to children, adolescents and adults.

Caffee has an Associate of Science Degree (honor graduate) from Bluefield State College in Bluefield, W.V., a Bachelor of Arts degree (Magna Cum Laude) and a Masters degree in Counseling from Augusta State University. She has worked in the field of mental health since 1998.  Caffee lives in Augusta, Georgia with her husband Curtis, and they have two adult daughters.

To order Wright’s book, When Touching Hurts ($15.99), click here.

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  1. What about boys kissing on the lips…haha

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