Safe, Unsafe and Unwanted Touches

Helping children recognize ways to explain their feelings is one of the many ways we can keep them safe. Often, it’s easy to use words like “good” or “bad” because they are simple for young children to understand. You might have even heard of “good touch, bad touch” used to teach kids about sexual abuse.

The problem with this phrase is that sometimes a bad touch can feel like a good one. Children can get confused by this because they aren’t at the developmental stage to explain nuances in a situation. For this reason, we don’t want to use “good touch and bad touch.”

Instead, use “safe and unsafe touch.” These phrases can be used to describe many situations beyond sexual abuse, which helps children become familiar with these words and how they can be used. For example, a parent or caregiver might redirect a child trying to touch a hot stove by saying “that is an unsafe touch.”

Explaining Safe and Unsafe Touch

The easiest way to explain safe and unsafe touches to children is by giving examples.

Safe touches are touches that make someone feel cared for or help keep them healthy and clean:

  • Grandma giving you a goodnight hug (when you consent)
  • Daddy giving you a forehead kiss before he leaves for work
  • The doctor giving you a check-up
  • A trusted adult helping you take a bath

Unsafe touches are touches that hurt or make someone feel bad or sad:

  • Being bit, slapped, punched, and pinched
  • Someone touching your private parts
  • Someone telling you to touch their private parts
  • Someone telling you to keep an unsafe secret

Using correct and anatomically accurate names to describe body parts, including private parts, is also an important piece of this conversation. Instead of giving nicknames for body parts, use words like vulva, vagina, penis, testicles, and anus. This helps kids be clear when they talk to adults.

What are Unwanted Touches?

Unwanted touches are kinds of touches that are safe, but a child doesn’t want. Just like adults, children don’t want to be hugged, kissed or touched all the time. Sometimes, they don’t want a good night hug or a good morning kiss. Normalizing this choice and respecting the boundary they are setting is an important way to mirror positive behavior.

Teach children that they have the right to say “no” or determine who they want to receive affection from. This is a part of helping them build strong and healthy boundaries.