Parenting: The difference between good touch and bad touch

November 9, 2011

According to Childhelp, an organization that runs a nationwide Child Abuse Hotline, 1 out 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before they reach their eighteenth birthday. But they say that children as young as four years old can differentiate between good touches, bad touches and sexual abuse. And they urge parents to have this discussion:

"When teaching your child about sexual abuse, talk about 3 different types of touch: good touch, bad touch and sexual abuse touch. 'Good touches' are those touches that make us feel happy, safe and loved. Good touches can make us feel warm inside or can make us feel like a smile. Emphasize that most of the touch we get is good touch.

Good touches are so important! 'Bad touches' are those touches that hurt us; they feel like an ouch. Some examples are kicking, hitting and biting. 'Sexual abuse touch' is defined as 'forced or tricked touch of private body parts.' The key words are forced and tricked. A force is when someone makes you do something you don't want to do or don't understand. A trick is when someone lies to you, fools you, pretends or calls something a game, that really isn't a game, so they can touch your private body parts or have you touch theirs. Explain that sexual abuse is confusing because it doesn't necessarily hurt; the touch can feel good. And that is confusing to children."

The NYU Child Study Center suggests talking regularly with children about good touches and bad touches in a way that is general and non-threatening and offers these additional tips:

"Start by setting up a general frame work for discussion. For example:

  • 'It's time to have a talk about good touch and bad touch because camp is coming up', or 'because it is swimsuit season and kids will be wearing less clothing, we should talk about this', or 'because I read an article in the paper, I want to have a talk with you about this.'
  • 'It's important that we talk about this every once in a while, because it's a way that I make sure you're safe and I can teach you ways to stay safe.'
  • 'Only your parents and your doctor are ever supposed to touch your private parts.' Good touch – appropriate hugs, kisses, pats. Bad touch – private parts, anything that makes you uncomfortable that doesn't stop. This is a good opportunity to talk with your kids about body boundaries and respect, in general.
  • Ask open ended questions: 'Has anyone at school or camp or church ever touched you in a bad way, or made you do anything you didn't like?' 'Tell me about that.'

    Be calm and emphasize your acceptance: 'You can always tell me if something like that happens. I won't be mad at you.'

    Emphasize safety: 'Who are other people you can tell who can keep you safe?' 'If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always tell me, or a teacher, and we will protect you.'

    Reassure your child that if someone touches him inappropriately, it is never his fault; he is not to blame. Say you appreciate being told."

    For more advice on talking with your child about recognizing and reporting Good and Bad Touches and Sexual Abuse, here are some additional resources:

    Psychology Today: Children's Response Center:

    Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on

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