How to Talk to Your Kids About “Tricky” Adults

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Image via Katie Hurley

Teach body safety and use the right words!

It’s never okay for an adult other than mom or dad (and how often does that even happen?) to touch a child’s genitalia. Never. Sure, they might have to confront that issue at the pediatrician’s office in the case of a yeast infection or something else related to their genitals, but any good doctor will ask first with the parent in the room.

Teach your children the correct terminology for all of their body parts. You know who uses cute nicknames for genitals? Adults trying to make kids feel comfortable in a “tricky” situation. If your child suddenly starts using words other than the correct words to label their genitals, start asking questions.

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Teach your kids how to wash in the bath or shower so that they don’t need help with this. Empower your kids to care for their own bodies. This is a big part of teaching body safety. When a child knows how to bathe independently, they aren’t easily fooled by adults offering to help.

Talk about the subtle tricks.

It’s important to teach kids what to expect. If a familiar adult wants to play a board game, that’s pretty safe. If a familiar adult wants to play a “private game – just the two of us”, it might not be so safe. Either way, teach your kids that they should always ask your permission before they leave your care with another adult. What should kids be on the lookout for?

  • An adult should never need a child’s “help”. Help carrying groceries? Sure. Help that involves sneaking away from mom or dad? Never.
  • Adults should never tell kids to keep secrets from their parents.
  • Adults should never ask kids to leave with them without telling their parents. “Your mom won’t mind” or “Don’t worry, I’ll let your mom know” are red flags.
  • Adults should never ask to see a child’s genitals.
  • Adults should never ask a child if he or she wants to see his or her genitals.

Tell them they have the right to say, “NO!”

Children are constantly told to listen to and respect adults. They are expected to trust the adults they encounter in their families, at school, and on the playing field. The problem, however, is that these tricky adults are such great tricksters that they tend to hang out in families, in schools, and on playing fields.

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Kids need to know that they have the right to say no. Talk to them about their instincts. If they feel something isn’t right – if they feel scared or uncomfortable in the presence of an adult – they have the right to leave and get help. If they feel “stuck”, they can yell or run or make a scene to draw attention to themselves.

We don’t want to scare our little ones away from all adults. But we do owe it to them to be honest (in an age appropriate way) about adults. Most of the adults in their lives are likely wonderful people – that’s why that gut instinct is so important. If we teach kids to listen to their instincts when red flags are raised, we empower them to walk away and get help.

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How do you talk to your kids about “tricky adults”?

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How to Talk to Your Kids About “Tricky” Adults

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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