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Spend 20 minutes learning 20 ways adults can create healthy relationships with children. 

How to Have Healthy Relationships with Children

1. Teach and Model Healthy Relationships: Teach and model characteristics of healthy relationships to your child including empathy, expressed feelings, equality, fairness, respect, and boundaries. It is important to know that most abuse is at the hands of someone who has gained the trust of a victim and their family and is someone the child knows, loves, or trusts.

2. Encourage Questions: Encourage your child to come to you and other helpful, healthy adults with questions about bodies and touch. Review your family’s values and rules for both at home and when you are not around. Also, a child must be empowered to listen to their instincts.

3. Listen: Good communication ensures that when something is difficult or something goes wrong, the parent or caregiver is there to help. Demonstrate the importance of listening and sharing feelings. Ongoing communication with your child can help to nurture qualities within them that render them less likely to be targets of abuse. If they tell you they feel uncomfortable with an adult, listen.

4. Teach Empathy: Teach your child empathy and show your child empathy. Empathy plays a major role in a child’s future happiness and success. Empathy promotes kindness, prosocial behaviors, and moral courage. It is effective against bullying, aggression, prejudice and racism. In addition, empathy helps children develop a sense of “self” and “others”. This allows children to imagine others’ boundaries and begin to understand how to respect those boundaries.

5. Be Friendly, Not Friends: Adults who work with your child should have training and be competent appropriate to their level of responsibility. Relatives and family friends also have appropriate roles. Adults always have more power and control than children, which means it is always inappropriate for adults to act as if they are peers with children.

6. Trust Your Instincts: You know your family and child better than anyone and if something feels not right, then it is not right.

7. Teach about Healthy Sexuality: Teach your child to recognize appropriate behavior and to avoid exploitive or inappropriate behavior towards others. Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space. Their body is theirs, so respect their no and teach others that your child is not being rude but establishing their boundaries. Remember, an offender will slowly try to groom a child and their parents and caregivers through more “normal” touches.

8. Help Your Child Understand their Boundaries: Teach children to understand about physical, emotional, and behavioral boundaries. Role-play to help your child get comfortable using their words to set boundaries and let them know to set boundaries with other children as well as adults. Adults must establish and respect appropriate boundaries with a child.

9. Watch for “Red Flags” with Other Adults and Your Child: Trust your instincts and remove your child from a situation if you feel uncomfortable. Be aware of red flags such as an adult treating your child as a peer, using inappropriate language or inappropriate touch, not respecting your child’s privacy, allowing or encouraging illegal activities, treating your child as a favorite, or looking for time to alone with your child, or engaging inappropriately or excessively on social media.

10. Empower Your Child: Empower your child as a partner in the prevention process. Encourage them to adopt healthy strategies to protect themselves, such as checking with a caregiver/adult before doing activities, going places with friends instead of alone, and identifying trusted adults.

11. Keep the Rule of Three: Make sure that all of your child’s interactions with others are observable, interruptible, and appropriate. Offenders operate by access, privacy, and control. If your child must be alone with an adult for lessons or sports or babysitting, check in occasionally or show up at an unexpected time, just to be sure everything is okay.

12. Tell Your Child that Secrets are Not Okay: Tell your child that there are no secrets kept in your family, and no one should ever ask them to keep a secret. Talk about surprises instead – how we surprise people with gifts and presents on their birthday or planning a party. The difference is that surprises are always shared with others and secrets are not.

13. Inquire about Verbal Interactions: Ask your child about conversations they have with other adults. Talk with your child about what they talked about with other adults in their lives. Adults should never participate in the use of inappropriate names, belittling comments, or sexual innuendos. Adults must use appropriate language with children and not treat children as peers.

14. Talk about Body Safety: Teaching your child the proper names for their private body parts will help them communicate with you if they should ever have a question related to illness, hygiene or abuse. Talking with your child calmly and matter-of-factly about body parts demonstrates that these parts are good and special and that you as the parent feel comfortable talking about these parts

15. Talk and Talk and Talk Some More: Create an environment in your home where your child feels comfortable sharing information and asking tough questions without being judged. Check in often with your child. Be accessible, non-judgmental, use natural teaching moments. Maintain ongoing communication and dialogue about safety issues.

16. Laugh with Your Child: Laugh! Our days are filled with stress, obligations, work, and school. Even though you are physically present with your child, you may be disconnected. Laughter, play, and joy is essential to connect with your child.

17. Encourage Your Child: Encourage your child to tell you or a trusted adult when they see inappropriate or harmful interactions between an adult and child. Also, encourage your child to tell you or a trusted adult about inappropriate or harmful things that have happened to themselves or their friends.

18. Model Respect: As the saying goes, we have to give respect to earn respect. We cannot teach respect to a child by being disrespectful to them. You must show respect for your child opinions and views. Avoid power struggles and admit your mistakes when appropriate. Your child has the right to think independently and like different things.

19. Tell the Truth: Have open and honest conversations with your child. Speak to your child in a developmentally appropriate way and in a manner that is suits their skill level. Their concerns should be addressed honestly and directly. Keep it short and simple. Show your child that you value their thoughts while also sharing your values and experiences with them.

20. Report: It is imperative that all incidents of inappropriate behavior of an adult with a child be reported to the appropriate person and/or civil authorities. Not all inappropriate incidents are abuse but reporting to a supervisor, if possible, can let the person know their behavior is unacceptable, and it lets them know they are being monitored. If child abuse is suspected, it must be reported to the appropriate civil authorities immediately as required by Maryland law, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.