Family rules are important in helping to shape kids. They offer boundaries and expectations. Our mantras include be kind to others, tell your truth, and try your best. In raising well-rounded human beings we feel like these cover the basics.
Now, we move on to the trickier family rules that are uber important in teaching kids to speak up for themselves, their body, and their space.
There are no secrets in our house.
Period. While we respect our children’s privacy, no secrets mean we are a safe place for our kids to share. Having a boy and a girl, we recognize each child likely connects with one of us more depending on the topic. This applies to talking about their bodies but also spills over into feelings and questions that each gender experiences differently. If they don’t feel comfortable telling one parent something, they have to be comfortable telling the other one.
Nothing is off-limits!
My daughter likes to talk about boys and her body with me but prefers to talk to my husband about sports and conflict. They know we talk as a couple. If a solution is needed, the parent who had the conversation will come back with a response.
When It Involves Others
Innocently enough a parent has given candy to our son and said, “Don’t tell your mom! This is our little secret…” Wait, what!?! Please think twice about saying this to someone else’s child. Luckily, my kids know this isn’t okay for our family. Within moments of them walking through the door, they share everything they feel we should know. While this won’t always be the case, we encourage them to share and thank them for being honest. Setting this precedent now will hopefully let them feel comfortable sharing as they get older. So far it’s working!
Your Body, Your Choice
Another rule we emphasize is “your body, your choice.” Kids are surrounded by authority figures telling them what and how to do almost everything. When it comes to their bodies, we throw authority out the window. They are in charge. From a hug or kiss from a relative or a doctor needing to examine them for medical reasons, they know all people must ask
permission before touching them in any way. They can say “no,” to anyone at any time if they are ever uncomfortable.
For our immediate family, our kids are only required to politely say hello and goodbye. The rest of the physical interaction is up to them. Doctors are told about our rule before an exam starts. Strangers who enter their personal space, usually with the best of intentions, are asked to keep their distance. My husband and I share this rule with any adults interacting with them. Our kids to know how strongly we feel about this. We go so far as to make it a point to explain this to other adults in front of them. There have been some awkward moments and strange looks, but it’s worth it.
Kids have lots of tricky situations to navigate as they grow up. Having you there to listen makes all the difference. Encouraging them to talk about a hard or uncomfortable situation will help keep them safe. Setting the stage when they are very young makes the conversation less awkward as they get older because they will be used to talking about these topics with you.
Here are some suggestions to get these conversations started in your house:
- Set expectations and boundaries so they know the rules. Be specific by saying, “No one can touch your body without asking your permission first. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason tell them no.”
- Talk with your kids about why it’s important to share and encourage them to do so. After they share how much fun they had ask them, “Did anything happen on your playdate that made you feel uncomfortable or weird?” or you can say, “Is there anything your friends said that you didn’t understand what the words mean?”
- Explain why secrets can be harmful. Saying something simple like, “It’s our job as parents to protect you. Keeping secrets means we don’t know what’s going on with you. We want you to share with us, so we can help keep you safe.”
- Your kids can tell you anything. If it is bad you still want to hear it. My husband and I say, “If something is wrong we want to hear about it from you first. If you’ve made a mistake you need to tell us so we can figure out a solution together.”