I can remember way back when I was a very little girl having a “junk” drawer. This was my special place, no one was allowed to open it but me. My mother never went in it, my sisters were told not to and Dad couldn’t have cared less about it. Many parents struggle with the need to protect their child while still respecting her right to privacy. When safety is paramount, however, a parent needs to learn how to give her child space within established bounds and without compromising trust. This seems trivial, but a child’s need and privilege for privacy is important and should start to be taught even at birth.
One may ask how you teach child privacy at birth. During a diaper change of course, this is a daily opportunity to begin teaching mutual respect and privacy. When you pick up your child let them know “I am picking you up, it is time to change your diaper. Here comes the wipe, it is cold. I am going to clean your bottom now.” This doesn’t seem like much and to some may even sound ridiculous but consider if it were you, wouldn’t you like to know what is going on with your body before it happens?
Showing respect for the privacy of your child at the earliest of ages will set the stage for the rest of their life. Allowing that “junk” drawer or box for all of a child’s special secret stuff will let them know that you respect their privacy, this in turn will teach them that you too have private spaces, places and times that NO CHILDREN ARE ALLOWED.
1. Teach your child that it is okay to say “no” to an adult, even you. Respect your young child’s right to privacy when she wants to use the bathroom by herself or go into a dressing room alone. Even a young child values modesty and privacy. Help your child to understand that parents, teachers and doctors should always ask permission before touching, examining or looking at her in a way that might make her feel uncomfortable.
2. Discourage your child from locking her bedroom door. Many children retreat to the comfort of their bedroom in order to be alone. Make a deal with your child that if the door is closed, no one should enter without first knocking.
3. Work to make your child feel safe. Children will often keep secrets if they feel their safety is threatened. Likewise, they are more likely to keep secrets if they feel that mom or dad might get mad. Explain to your child that secrets can be hurtful and damaging and that while you might not always like what she has to say, you are always available to listen. Also explaining that if you ever feel their safety is threatened by someone or something that you may have to break the privacy contract to keep them safe.
4. Once children reach the teen years there can be varying degrees of the amount of privacy a parent allows depending on the child. James Lehman, MSW says, Privacy is a Privilege, Not a Right If you have a teenager who meets her responsibilities, comes home on curfew, is where she says she’ll be when she said she’d be there, is hanging out with the people with whom she said she would be hanging out, and you have no reason to be suspicious about anything, I suggest you stay out of her room. And I think you should tell her that, too. You can say something like, “I’m not going to interfere with your privacy, because you’re doing so well. I have no reason not to trust you.” That way, she knows she’s being rewarded for her behavior—your lack of interference in her personal space is a direct result of her actions.
However, your kids should know that if they violate the trust and honesty, one of the things that’s going to change is that you are going to be watching them more carefully. And yes, that might mean going through their drawers or closet or looking through their email. But that’s the price they pay for being dishonest and untrustworthy. We all have to learn in life that losing someone’s trust is a very powerful thing. People get fired from their jobs because they’ve done something that violates their boss’s trust, like stolen something from work or used drugs or alcohol while on the job. Trust is not something that can be taken lightly, both inside your home and out. It’s not spying when you decide you have to take extra steps to keep your kids safe from what’s going on in the outside world and from their own poor decisions, especially if you have other children in the home.
Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director for Partners In Learning.
Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director of Partners In Learning. Her education includes an associate’s degree from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree from UNC Greensboro in human development and family studies with a concentration in birth-kindergarten. She also holds a master’s degree at UNCG. She also serves as a CBRS therapist for the center.