What are Appropriate Boundaries for Kids with Adults?

With the recent media coverage of the Larry Nassar case, parents may be wary about trusting adults alone with their children, whether that adult is a coach, mentor, teacher, or a family friend. Nassar was a physician at Michigan State University, but he was better known for treating America’s top Olympic gymnasts. He was sentenced to over 100 years in prison after being convicted for sexually abusing over 160 athletes. So as a parent or guardian, how do you help to protect your child and establish appropriate boundaries?

Start the conversation early. Help your child identify safe adults. Ask your child who they feel comfortable talking to if they are worried or concerned about themselves or someone else. A helpful and fun tool to use with your child is Lauren’s Kids Trusted Triangle worksheet.  The worksheet helps children name three adults, or “grown up buddies”, that make them feel safe.

Set boundaries. Explain to your child that everyone has their own comfort levels when it comes to physical contact and personal space. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss a family member or other adult if they do not want to. . Allowing your child to voice their boundaries teaches them that it’s okay to say no, and that there are other forms of affection, such as a wave, high five or fist bump.

Be clear on what’s appropriate vs. inappropriate. Kids can have perfectly healthy relationships with grown adults. For example, with an appropriate adult-child relationship, this means that the adult respects the child and their boundaries, uses respectful language and tone and keeps communication transparent. Inappropriate behavior can include an adult asking a child to keep a secret, making inappropriate jokes or comments, offering alcohol/drugs or sharing sexual material such as photos or messages. Tell your child to trust their gut, and that if something feels uncomfortable or wrong, then it probably is. Remind your child that if these things ever happen to them or someone that your child knows, that they won’t be in trouble if they tell.

Have a daily check-in with your child. Especially if your child is involved in after-school activities like a sport, band or club, it’s important to know what’s going on. Try asking your child open-ended questions about their day, including what they did at recess and during class. Give them a chance to express their successes, questions or concerns.  Let them know that you want to learn what’s important to them, and that it’s okay to feel frustrated, upset or sad about something.

Keep your cool. Your child might disclose something to you that you don’t want to hear, and that’s okay. As a parent or guardian, your child will look up to you, especially in how you react to difficult situations. We understand that your child’s safety and well-being is important. Your child might disclose something that makes you feel emotional or overwhelmed. Acknowledge that your child is doing the right thing by always telling you the truth.

If your child, or a child you know, discloses abuse and you aren’t sure about next steps, contact Where’s The Line? anonymously by calling 844-234-LINE (5463), texting 87028 or via live chat at www.WheresTheLine.info. This first-of-its-kind bystander campaign is available to help bystanders who witness abuse or violence and aren’t sure what to do. The information coordinator can help direct you to local resources and provide confidential answers and advice.

Resources and Prevention

National Child Abuse Hotline
1-800-4-a-Child (1-800-422-4453)

Lauren’s Kids
Educates adults and children about sexual abuse prevention through in-school curricula, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)


Leave a Response

Be the first to leave a response to “What are Appropriate Boundaries for Kids with Adults?”