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Parenting Corner: Talking about safe, unsafe touch

February 1, 2019

All children need to be taught about healthy boundaries in an age appropriate manner. Parents often prefer not to venture into this sensitive area, but it is vital that this information comes from you, the parent, rather than the Internet or peers.

This applies to all children, regardless of whether they are disabled or not. The way the information is imparted may vary depending on the nature of disability and it is not a bad idea to take inputs from an expert in what to say and when.

Abha Khetarpal is the president, of Cross the Hurdles, an organization that works with disabled people. A counsellor and disability rights activist, she gives free online counselling and recently launched an online resource to educate families with disabled children about matters related to sexuality and health.

Khetarpal believes it is important that parents of children with disabilities start speaking to them about such matters at an early age. "The term good and bad touch is subjective because sometimes the bad touch for us might be a good touch to a disabled adolescent who is not exposed to all this before. So when someone touches them with a bad intention, they would only feel good".

So, how does a parent impart such communication in a sensitive, easy to understand manner?

We tell parents to practice something called the 'underwear rule'. The intruder must not have access to the private parts of the child. When they experience something like that, they must be trained to react immediately. We see a lot of children who are visually impaired and with intellectual disabilities undergoing harassment, most of them boys. They just do not know how to handle a situation like these - Abha Khetarpal, Disability counsellor

Remember, this is a two-way street, so parents must be open to the child asking questions and not shut him her her down.

So, here are some broad tips to teach a child with a disability about safe and unsafe touches.

  • Bond with your child - A child with a disability has its own ways of understanding things. Being a parent, you would know it best how to handle your child. For starters, create a bond so they trust you and feel love and comfort from your side. They must understand that you are there with them and understand them well. Once you create that bond, discussing sensitive matters becomes easier.
  • Role play works - Children with certain disabilities understand things better when they are enacted. This approach works well especially with children who are on the spectrum. Show them visual narratives instead of just telling them about things. Tell them to react or cry out loud for help when they feel uncomfortable in any situation. The child must learn to say a 'no' when caught in an uncomfortable situation.
  • When to talk - You know the best time to talk to your child. Typically most parents like to do it while giving the child a bath, applying powder or while getting the child dressed. Car journeys are a good time as well.

Teaching a disabled child about safe and unsafe touches is not very different from the way you would teach a non-disabled child, says Sharda Ram, Founder, Aarambh., an NGO that works towards empowering people with disabilities.

"The difference is that since most disabled children are unable to express themselves or communicate, parents must keep a look out and be vigilant. Most parents refuse to come out and say that their child was harassed, it happens even now", says Ram.

Above all, respect your child's boundaries. If he or she is uncomfortable kissing or hugging someone, do not insist, even when its a person or situation you feel totally comfortable about. Remember this is your child's personal space and you owe it to him or her to respect it.

ALSO READ: Some tips for caregivers of people with disabilities

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