A Guide to Helping Kids Respond to Unwanted Touch

Written By

Shannon Wassenaar
February 23, 2024

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Benny is a highly sensitive seven-year-old. Recently, one of his uncles tickled him even after he didn’t want to be touched. Benny screamed and squirmed, but his Uncle didn’t stop. This experience was really uncomfortable and overwhelming for Benny.

Unfortunately, Benny didn’t know that he could say no. He didn’t want to upset anyone or seem rude. He also didn’t feel like he could tell anyone about the experience because he was worried that his uncle might be upset with Benny or make fun of him in front of all of his relatives. 

What Benny needed was to feel empowered to say no. He needed to feel safe to tell an adult about the interaction with his uncle. He needed to feel validated for his feelings of discomfort. Situations like this can quickly become much more tricky or dangerous. 

When we educate kids about their rights and empower kids to protect their bodies, it can prevent them from being targeted or victimized by unsafe people. 

Teach Your Child Body Safety and Consent!

Child Sleeping

Conversations about personal safety and consent can be challenging but are so important for kids’ well-being. 

This guide will cover:

  • Creating body safety rules 
  • Teaching kids safe versus unsafe touch
  • Helping kids respond to unwanted touch
  • Tips for how parents should respond
  • Fostering open communication

By the end, you’ll feel more confident having these sensitive but necessary talks. Let’s get started!

Part 1: Establish Body Safety Rules 

Establishing body safety rules is an important way to help protect children from unsafe situations. The rules outline how kids can stay safe and the people they can turn to for help. Having open conversations and creating a plan tailored to your child’s age empowers them with the knowledge of what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable or encounter unwanted touch.

The language you use may need to change as your child grows, but the key components stay the same. 

Here are examples of body safety rules and scripts you can use in your home:

Body Safety Rules
No one touches our bodies without our “yes.”“If someone touches your body without your consent, you can say, “No, thank you,” or walk away.”
It is not safe for anyone to ask us to touch their private parts.“If anyone other than Mom, Dad, or a doctor tries to touch your private parts, you can yell, “Stop that, right now,” run away and come tell a trusted person.”
In our family, we don’t keep secrets.“If someone says, “Hey, do you want to know a secret,” you can say to them, “No, thank you.” If they keep trying, you can walk away or plug your ears.”
If anyone tells us to keep a secret, we can tell our safe people. “If anyone tells you to keep a secret, you can come to me, Dad, Grandma, Nana or Aunty Julie. We are your safe people.”
We will never get in trouble for telling our safe people about unwanted touch or secrets.“If someone tries to tell you to keep something a secret and says something bad will happen if you tell, don’t believe them. You can come and tell a safe person right away. You will never get in trouble for telling us the truth.”

It can help to role-play scenarios to give your child practice following the body safety house rules. Having age-appropriate body safety rules empowers children to protect themselves when they’re not in your care. 

Related Post: 4 Body Safety Tools to Protect Your Toddler and Preschooler

Part 2: Teach Kids Safe vs. Unsafe Touch

Start by explaining that safe touch is a touch that makes us feel cared for and comfortable. Unsafe touch is a touch that is hurtful or makes us feel uncomfortable. 

When you teach kids the difference between safe and unsafe touch, offer specific examples to help them understand. For younger children, this might sound like: “Safe touch is touch that makes us feel cared for, like high-fives, fistbumps, a pat on the back, and hugs.”

For older children, you might add more specific details to the explanations. “Safe touch is the kind of touch we give others permission for – if I say a hug is okay, then it is a safe touch. Unsafe touch is a touch that is hurtful, makes us feel uncomfortable or is simply unwanted. This is especially true if/when someone tries to touch your private parts or asks you to touch their private parts. It also includes hitting, punching, slapping, biting, and kicking.”

Starting at a very young age, teach children they are the bosses of their own bodies and that their body belongs to them. “Your body belongs to you! No one can touch your body without your “yes!”

Emphasize they get to decide when and how someone touches them, even affection from loved ones, and that no one should ask them to keep how they’ve been touched a secret. Roleplay scenarios to practice speaking up for body autonomy. Children gain confidence when you nurture their instinct to say no to unwanted touch.

Related Post: Why Children Need to Know Correct Names for Body Parts

Part 3: Teach Kids How to Respond to Unwanted Touch

1. Teach kids what to say when they don’t want to be touched

Teaching children what to say when they don’t want to be touched is a critical part of empowering them to protect their own bodies and set healthy boundaries. As parents, we want to equip kids with the language and scripts to be able to assert themselves confidently in situations where someone is touching them in a way that doesn’t feel safe or comfortable.  

Having simple, direct phrases prepared ahead of time helps kids know exactly what to say if someone tries to touch them without consent.

  • “No, thank you; I don’t want a hug right now.”
  • “I don’t want to be touched right now.”
  • “I am the boss of my body.”

Practise these scripts to help your child get comfortable saying no in unsafe situations. 

Teaching children what to say when they experience unwanted touch is an important part of keeping them safe. Provide your child with simple but direct phrases they can use confidently and clearly when they don’t want to be touched. Some examples include:

  • “Please stop. I don’t like that.”
  • “I said no. Take your hands off of me.”
  • “Don’t touch me there.”

It can also help to teach kids what to do with their bodies when they’re being touched without consent. Some examples include:

  • Move the other person’s hands away. 
  • Turn your face or body away from them.
  • Walk or run away to a safe place or safe person.

3. Teach kids how to report unsafe touch 

Along with phrases to stop unwanted touch in the moment, children need to understand how to report unsafe touch after it occurs. It’s important to teach kids that reporting unsafe touch won’t result in punishment or judgment. 

Keep in mind that this topic can feel tricky for kids and potentially distressing, so it’s important to approach the subject calmly. Be as straightforward as possible and mindful of your tone of voice. Adapt the scripts or sensor the language to cater the content to your specific child’s sensitivities, temperament and maturity levels.

The most important piece, while you’re reciting these scripts or role-playing these scenarios, is to signal to your child that they’re safe.

“You are safe. Mommy just wants to help you stay safe, so when I’m not around, like on the bus or at school, you can still be the boss of your body.”

Here are some scripts you can use to explain reporting to a child:

“I will always be here to listen if anyone’s touch makes you feel weird or uncomfortable. You can tell me, and I will help keep you safe.”

“If anyone touches you in a way you don’t like, I need you to tell me, Grandma or your teacher right away. Even if they tell you to keep it a secret, you can tell me.”

It can help to give kids specific language to use, offer examples and role play using the scripts to help them feel more comfortable and confident to report. Here are some examples of what this might sound like: 

“Let’s pretend a kid at school named Joe touches your mouth during recess. That is a private part, and it is not okay for Joe to touch you there if you didn’t say he could. In this instance, you can go to the teacher and say, “Mrs. Clarkson, Joe touched my mouth.” 

For younger kids, it can help to use toys, puppets or stuffed animals to act out a scene where a child reports unwanted touch.

Following these conversations or role-playing scenarios, ask open-ended questions to assess how your child is feeling. 

“I know this topic can feel kind of tricky. Do you have any questions?”

Related Post: Secrets vs. Surprises: Why Parents Need to Teach Kids the Difference

How to Respond When a Child Shares They’ve Received Unwanted Touch

When a child comes to you and shares that they’ve been touched without their consent, regardless of the situation, we want to be mindful of our reaction. The way we respond can shape the way a child feels about themselves and the ways they respond to unwanted touch in the future. 

  • Stay calm.
  • Listen without judgment. 
  • Be sure to let the child know that it’s not their fault; make sure they know they didn’t do anything wrong or deserve what happened to them. 
  • Thank them for sharing with you. 
  • Remind them that they can always come to you. 

The most important thing is that your child feels safe coming to you and that together, you find the resources to help them through this challenging time. With compassion, patience and the right support, your family can recover and move forward in a healthy way.

If you feel concerned or uneasy about a situation your child shared with you, it’s your role as a child’s caregiver to report the incident to appropriate authorities. Remember, you are your child’s advocate, so it’s your responsibility to speak up on their behalf. 

Fostering Open Communication

Body safety and consent conversations should not be a one-time event but an ongoing discussion parents have with their children in an age-appropriate way. It’s important to check in regularly to reinforce these topics.

At any age, you can start reading storybooks about consent and body safety boundaries. As your child gets older, periodically pause to ask questions and get their perspectives. It can help to let them find the answer as a way of showing you what they know. Here are three recommendations: 

You can also share stories from your own experience as a way of connecting and continuing the conversation. “When I was a child, my Grandmother always gave me big kisses. I didn’t like to be kissed, so I turned my cheek when she tried to kiss me to tell her “no.” Do you want to practice with me?

Roleplay different scenarios using dolls or stuffed animals. Practice what they would say and do if someone tried to touch them in an unsafe way. Praise them for remembering their body safety rules. “It looks like Baby Moo doesn’t want to be tickled – what should he say to Grandpa Moo to let him know?”

Related: Body Safety & Consent Books for Kids

Offer Body Safety Check-Ins

Another way to keep communication open is to offer regular body safety check-ins. This is especially important for a child who forgets the experience of unwanted touch or doesn’t know how to bring it up. To take the pressure off our kids, we can build regular body-safety check-ins into our daily routines. 

Post play-date check-in: “How was playing over at Alex’s house today? Was there anything that happened that made you feel uncomfortable?”

After-school check-in: “I wonder if there was anything on the bus or at school that felt tricky?”

After a family gathering: “We saw lots of cousins at Grandma’s birthday party. I noticed you were playing with your older cousins for quite a while! Did you feel like the boss of your body today?”

Regular check-ins show your child you are a trusted source of support. By continuing the conversation, you empower them to speak up about body safety long-term.

More Body Safety Support

As we learned from Benny’s story, having these open and honest conversations in a nurturing way is so important for setting kids up for success. Use this guide to help you approach the sensitive topics of unwanted touch with your child.

By taking the time to create a family body safety plan, teach about safe and unsafe touch, and roleplay responses to unwanted touch, parents can empower their children with the knowledge and skills to speak up if someone tries to touch them inappropriately. 

If you’d like to take body safety and consent education one step further in your home, our Body Safety Toolkit is an engaging way to teach children ages 3-9. 

Through colouring worksheets, games and fun activities, the toolkit will help your child: 

  • Learn the correct names for body parts.
  • Understand public and private spaces and body parts.
  • Say “NO” when needed.
  • Identify their personal team of safe people.
  • Understand the difference between Secrets and Surprises.

Check out The Body Safety Toolkit

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    Article By

    Shannon Wassenaar
    Shannon is a Registered Psychotherapist, Content Specialist, and Highly Sensitive Parent with a passion for understanding, and promoting human relationships. Shannon holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology, and a Masters degree in Psychotherapy. She began her professional career as a trauma therapist, and continues to support families from a trauma-informed perspective. Shannon uses her knowledge and experience to create educational content for parents, and treatment plans to help families flourish. In her spare time she enjoys taking long walks, playing recreational sports, and sipping a hot latte at a local cafe.