Empowering your Child to Maintain Personal Boundaries over the Summer

Empowering your Child to Maintain Personal Boundaries over the Summer

By Bracha Jakofsky, MSW, JCFS Abuse Prevention Coordinator

As the school year winds down, many parents are preparing for the transition to summer camp and unstructured time in between. This is an ideal time to start reviewing with your child how to set and maintain personal boundaries in this new environment.

The concept of personal boundaries encompasses a variety of issues related to the right to protect our emotional well-being, our physical space and our bodies. The concept may be new to those of us who were taught to put the comfort of others ahead of our needs and not consider what we want for ourselves.

These are some of the personal-boundary issues that may emerge at camp or otherwise during the summer.

Children have the right to:

  • refuse to participate in any activity that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and be respected for their choice - except in the case of a safety-related issue, e.g. leaving the camp without permission or in case of an emergency
  • not have their private parts touched, looked at or talked about, with the exception of medical personnel (doctor or nurse) or a caregiver giving a bath, for example.
  • have their privacy respected, especially during dressing and changing.
  • have personal physical space, for example if they prefer not to be hugged or patted on the back when they first meet people or any other time.;
  • not be spoken down to.
  • refuse to allow anyone to see or touch their private parts as part of a game, like “doctor” or “I dare you,” and if they witness such activity, to report it to a trusted adult.
  • not respond to personal questions that make them feel uncomfortable.

It can be helpful to have an age-appropriate discussion with your child about these issues and help your child identify their boundaries. You may wish to familiarize yourself with camp policies and procedures to incorporate into role-plays to help them speak up for their needs and wants. You might also explain the concept of having a trusted adult or two that your child can talk with if issues of concern arise and identify at least one person at camp who might serve in that role.

Once camp begins, have regular check-ins with your child about their daily activities and how camp is going in general. It can be helpful to learn the names of your child’s counselor(s) and other staff so you can ask about them as well. Show yourself to be an askable parent with whom your child feels comfortable discussing their camp experiences. Build trust with your child by making them feel heard and respected when they communicate with you. Keep lines of communication open by talking with children early and often about personal safety. Take advantage of natural moments alone together in the car or before bed, for example, to hold these important conversations.

For additional resources, please visit our abuse prevention page.