From the time babies can hold up their heads, we put them on our lap. After all, holding them close is one of the many joys of having babies around the house. But since sitting on someone’s lap involves close proximity, we have to teach our kids boundaries in this area.
You may want to discuss this issue with your spouse, and decide if family members like grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, or even close family friends, can do. Teach your toddler that this group of people are the only safe adults to sit on.
If they ask why, explain that hugging, kissing and sitting on other people’s laps are things we do only with family we love, and we do not sit so closely with other people. You can also say that our bum is part of our private area and we should not put our bums on anyone else. Part of sex education at this age is teaching our kids about body safety and also proper names for their body parts.
You may also want to teach your young ones how to say no if an unfamiliar adult picks them up to sit them on their laps. For example, say “I don’t like this,” run away and look for daddy, mummy or another trusted adult. Role-play with them so that they would know how to do it if it happens. Treat it as a game, pretending to be different characters and using their soft toys as props.
You can also model the right behaviour for your toddler – if a friend’s toddler comes to you and climbs onto your lap, gently remove him or her, put the child next to you and keep your arm around them to make them still feel loved.
Some children are naturally stranger-shy and would stay close to people familiar to them. Some are outgoing and may love going up to people to make friends. No matter how affable your child is, people are generally drawn to children and may approach your child with friendly gestures. They may go further into easing them into closer interaction, from simple conversation, waving and blowing kisses, to pats on the head, pinches on cheeks, to hugs, being put on the lap and even kisses.
Start talking to your child about boundaries – that hugging, kissing and sitting on laps are things we do only with family we love and we do not sit so closely with other people. Even though there have been cases of molestation that starts from a young child being on an adult’s lap, we do not need to include these stories in our talk with this age group. Do your teaching from the perspective of body safety and boundaries, instead of fear.
Role-play to help your growing child learn boundaries; for example, you can put stuffed toys around and pretend each toy represents different people, with some not on the list mentioned of safe adults, and ask your child whose lap they can sit on. You can expand that to actions like kissing, help in toileting, following to the person’s home, and so on.
Teach them what to do if an adult does something they are not comfortable with. Keep the rehearsed answers and actions short but clear, for example:
Say to the person: “I don’t like that”
Go find daddy, mummy or another adult
Tell what happened and how they feel: “I don’t like Uncle trying to kiss me”.
Consistent repeating of these body safety rules will help them remember it.
As a parent of young children, speak up for them. If you are uncomfortable with an action or interaction between another person and your child, politely take your child back. It also serves as an example your child can model after. After that, do talk to your kid about what happened and reinforce what you taught him or her about saying no in inappropriate situations.
At the ages of 7-9, your child should be aware of safe and healthy boundaries for their bodies. Even though someone may not ask your child to sit on their lap, they may be asked for a hug or a kiss. If a relative or close family friend makes a request for your child to sit on their lap, or leans in for a hug or kiss, you can teach your child that it is okay to say no.
Sometimes, a child may feel that it is rude or disrespectful to say no to an adult, more so if it is a relative or close family friend. Let them know it is okay to stop the behaviour even if they may have been used to sitting on someone’s lap when they were younger. Teach them that they can start saying no now.
Demonstrate how they can respond politely by saying something like, “Uncle, I’m too heavy to sit on your lap now. I will sit on a chair next to you instead.”
Affirm your child privately when you notice they are drawing boundaries for themselves to protect their personal space. Praise them for making a stand to maintain their physical boundary while being firm and respectful to the adult. When kids know they have their parents’ approval for their actions, it increases their confidence in expressing how others need to respect their wishes and their bodies.
Some children may still like the feeling of sitting on an adult’s lap as it makes them feel like a young child. Ensure that you give your child lots of attention and physical affection like hugs, kisses and cuddles, so that they do not need to seek it elsewhere.
Be sure to check in with your child to find out if they have experienced any close contact that made them feel uneasy. Some of them might have heard it from friends who have had such encounters. Do not be afraid to ask questions, but use a calm and natural tone instead of sounding anxious or suspicious. Assure them that if anything like that happens to them, they can let you know immediately, that it is not their fault and you will not be angry with them.
As you continue to be open and assuring with regards to these issues, your children will grow up knowing that it is safe to talk to you about sex and sexuality.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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