700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Setting Boundaries Between Kids and Adults: How Close Is Too Close?

Apr 26, 2018
Blog Setting Boundaries

With recent media coverage of Michigan State’s Larry Nassar, parents may be considering whether it’s okay to trust adults alone with their children; whether that adult is a coach, mentor, teacher or family friend.

Nassar was a physician at Michigan State University and was well known for treating America’s top Olympic gymnasts. He was sentenced to over 100 years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing more than 160 athletes. So as a parent or guardian, how do you help to protect your child and establish appropriate boundaries?

Start the conversation early. Help your child identify safe adults. Ask your child who they feel comfortable talking to if they are worried or concerned about themselves or someone else. A helpful and fun tool to use with your child is Lauren’s Kids’
Trusted Triangle worksheet. The worksheet helps children name three adults, or “grown up buddies” who make them feel safe.

Set boundaries. Explain to your child that everyone has their own comfort levels when it comes to physical contact and personal space. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss a family member or other adult if they do not want to. Allowing your child to voice their boundaries teaches them that it’s okay to say no and that there are other forms of affection, such as a wave, high five or fist bump.

Be clear on what’s appropriate vs. inappropriate. Kids can have perfectly healthy relationships with grown adults. For example, with an appropriate adult-child relationship, this means that the adult respects the child and their boundaries, uses respectful language and tone and keeps communication transparent. Inappropriate behavior can include an adult asking a child to keep a secret, making inappropriate jokes or comments, offering alcohol or drugs or sharing sexual material such as photos or messages.

Tell your child to trust their gut, and that if something feels uncomfortable or wrong, then it probably is. Remind your child that if these things ever happen to them or someone that your child knows, they won’t be in trouble if they tell.

Have a daily check-in with your child. Especially if your child is involved in after-school activities like a sport, band or club, it’s important to know what’s going on. Try asking your child open-ended questions about their day, including what they did at recess and during class. Give them a chance to express their successes, questions or concerns. Let them know that you want to learn what’s important to them, and that it’s okay to feel frustrated, upset or sad about something.

Keep your cool. Your child might disclose something to you that you don’t want to hear, and that’s okay. As a parent or guardian, your child will look up to you, especially in how you react to difficult situations. We understand that your child’s safety and well-being is important. Your child might disclose something that makes you feel emotional or overwhelmed. Acknowledge that your child is doing the right thing by always telling you the truth.

If your child, or a child you know, discloses abuse and you aren’t sure about next steps, contact Where’s The Line? anonymously by calling 844-234-LINE (5463), texting 87028 or via live chat at
www.WheresTheLine.info. This first-of-its-kind bystander campaign is available to help bystanders who witness abuse or violence and aren’t sure what to do. The information coordinator can help direct you to local resources and provide confidential answers and advice.

You can also contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453), the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) or Lauren’s Kids, which educates adults and children about sexual abuse prevention through in-school curriculums, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements.

The Center for Family Safety and Healing
For more information, click here.

Featured Expert

NCH Blog Author
Tamara Mapp
The Center for Family Safety and Healing

Tamara Mapp is the Director of Program Development and Implementation at The Center for Family Safety and Healing (TCFSH). She oversees staff members for home visitation, child assessment center, fostering connections and adult services. She also provides administrative support to behavioral health and research at TCFSH. Tamara is also responsible for various grants and programs that support the work of the organization. 

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.