Children, Consent, and Holiday Visits


Before the Thanksgiving holiday break, I shared a graphic with our parent listserv at SAS from 11th Principle: Consent!.  This graphic urges parents not to force their kids to hug relatives (or anyone) as a way to teach body safety and the concept of consent.  I received so many emails thanking me that I decided to write my blog this month on the same topic.  Most of my career prior to coming to SAS was spent either directly counseling children who were sexually and physically abused or managing nonprofits that focused on the same.  I have been reviewing the evidence-based programs on preventing child sexual abuse (making sure all my info is as current and research-based as possible) as I develop a seminar on body safety.  (I will be offering this seminar for SAS parents early next year.)  For now, here are some things to think about (and hopefully conversations to have) before you visit relatives during this holiday season.

The stats are shocking and upsetting but really highlight why this is an important conversation to have before visiting relatives and attending holiday parties.

  • 90% of children who are sexually abused know their abuser
  • 30% are abused by family members
  • 60% are abused by people the family trusts...  those who abuse gain access to the child in a school, church, sports club, etc. and often move into a position of trust within the family
  • Only about 10% are abused by strangers
  • 40% are abused by older or larger youth, like babysitters or cousins

Often parents want to talk to their kids about body safety but really aren't sure how to start.  Here are some ideas about things to say to your children.

  • "You don't have to hug or kiss anyone if you don't want to.  Not even grandma.  How about a high five instead?"
  • "It's not ok for someone to ask you to touch their private parts with any part of your body, including your mouth."
  • “Surprises are fun for children, but secrets are not okay. Surprises are secrets meant to be told, like a surprise party. But other secrets can be dangerous because they don’t let me know if you’re safe. If a friend is playing with matches, someone offers you drugs, or someone asks you to help them with their private body parts, I need you to tell me about it, so I can keep you safe.”
  • “Grown-ups and older children have no business ‘playing’ with your private body parts. Sometimes grown-ups need to help young children with washing or wiping these private parts, but that’s not the same as playing with them. Sometimes doctors need to examine you. But it’s never without a nurse or parent in the room and it’s never a secret.”
  • “Grown-ups and older children never, ever need help from children with their private parts. If someone asks you for this kind of help, tell me right away, even if it’s someone in our family or someone we know. If anyone shows you their private parts, pictures of private parts, or asks to take pictures of your private parts, you can tell me. I promise I will listen and not be angry. If you ever feel ‘mixed up’ about secrets, feelings, or private body parts, tell me and I will help you.”
  • "Michael has said no.  In our family when someone says no we listen to them and stop what we are doing." (for example, when siblings or cousins are wrestling)

Many parents I talk to are unsure how to handle family members who insist on hugs or kisses from their children.  Here are some ideas about what to say in those situations.

  • "We're teaching Jeremy that he is allowed to make decisions about his body.  Thanks for respecting his boundaries."
  • "John (older cousin), it looks like you are insisting that Chloe kiss and hug you when she has said she doesn't want to.  She looks uncomfortable.  Please stop.  We are teaching Chloe that she can make decisions about her body."
  • "Travis, your aunt Jane would like a kiss hello.  I know you haven't seen her in a while and you might not remember her.  It is ok to tell her that you would rather wave or just say hello."

No matter what age your child is, the holiday season is a great opportunity to start having these conversations and modeling the importance of consent.  Need some additional guidance?  Don't hesitate to reach out to me or anyone else on your Work/Life team!  And stay tuned for a Body Safety seminar early next year!


About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.

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