Linda Johnson, PCAVT Executive Director &
Marcie Hambrick PhD, MSW, Director of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
Gratefully, this holiday season will be a bit more normal for many families than it was in 2020. With vaccination rates on the rise, and the world slowly opening back up, more and more families are feeling safe enough to gather for the holidays. While this is happy and welcome news, we need to continue to pay special attention to not only safety from Covid-19, but also the well-being, mental health, and physical safety of our children and teens this holiday season.
For example, if relatives visit, it can be such a joy and a great learning experience. Children as young as toddlers take their cues from adults about body sovereignty. This is a big term that includes having respect for others’ boundaries about touching. We can encourage adults to model behavior such as asking children if they want touch (like hugs), waiting for their answer, and respecting their answer. In this way, children will build confidence to say “no” without fear of an adult’s reaction and learn not to take it personally when someone says “no” to touch from them either. We can teach children three simple steps to respecting each other’s boundaries:
Ask for permission before touching
Listen and honor others’ wishes about touch
Understand that not wanting touch at times is normal
Children can learn phrases like, “you are in my bubble” or “you are in my space” which will help them communicate their personal boundaries to others. Children with these skills will have healthy relationships. You’ll find children will enjoy holiday visits more when everyone is comfortable.
This holiday season in particular, many relatives may be overjoyed to be together again- of course! While some may be eager to hug, kiss, and tickle, after more than a year and a half of social distancing and staying six feet apart, some people, including our children, may not be ready for physical touch from people they have not had much, if any, close contact with in a long time. Also consider that children’s comfort with things like sitting on a lap or receiving tickles or kisses will change over time, and people may not be sensitive to how these things may have changed for children since they last saw them in person.
We, as parents and caregivers, might worry about hurting other’s feelings if we support our child in saying “no” to a hug or to sitting on a lap, particularly this year. However, it is essential that our children and teenagers learn that they can assert and protect their own physical boundaries.
There are many other ways children can connect with friends and family. Children can write cards to family, friends, and others they are unable to see in person or write to people in nursing homes or shelters who are far from or missing their loved ones too. Watching special holiday movies together, while enjoying popcorn and treats, can also make lots of fun memories.
Of course, some children love using digital devices, like tablets, laptops, or smartphones to connect with friends or to play games. Spending time with your children while playing their favorite games or visiting interesting internet sites can be a great opportunity to teach digital safety and learn from your child. We can reinforce boundaries by teaching children at an early age that any texts, posts, photos, or videos may become public even though it might feel private. We can let children know that they need to ask for help from a trusted adult if they come across upsetting content on the internet, if someone asks for identifying information, offers a gift, asks for pictures or videos of them, or wants to meet in person. Let children know that you and other trusted adults can help with these kinds of situations, just like you would if someone tried to hurt them in person.
Take some time to talk with your children about your family’s holiday traditions, their meanings, and other holidays coming up that you have enjoyed and celebrated in the past. It is not too early to start thinking of ways to share some love with your friends, neighbors, and extended family. We are stronger together in so very many ways! Let’s seek to focus on how we can contribute to our common good health for ALL during the 2021 holidays and the New Year!
COVID 19 Parent and Caregiver Guide
PCAVT’s Parents Corner Blog
Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers
For online safety resources, visit Netsmartz