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Boundaries with children and youth?

2015

Hi Everyone,

My name is Nina Nguyen and I am currently a student at the University of Fraser Valley, where I am doing my undergraduate study for my Bachelors of Child and Youth Care. I have about two years left of the program but I wanted to ask questions about creating boundaries between child and/or youth that I will be working with in the future.

I know it depends on the CYC practitioner or the agency on how they would want to create boundaries between child and/or youth, depending on the policies that may be involved. For instance, a scenario where you are working with a child that comes from a low income family, and they do not get as much love and support at home by their parents or caregivers. How would you go about creating boundaries with that child, where if they are a school aged kid that are young and require that sense of touch like a hug or a pat on the back to give them the reassurance to make them feel a sense of belonging. How would you find a balance between your professionalism and the child's needs being met? I find that it would be difficult to find a balance between being a professional but also, providing support that is intentional, where the child and/or youth will receive the necessary support that is needed to fulfil a positive change towards their development.

I want to know how boundaries would be created in that type of scenario, where the child and/or youth can get the support that they need, but also allow us to be professionals, where we do not overstep our boundaries against policies and code of ethics that prevents us from doing our job right.

I will be looking forward to responses, regarding this topic because I would love to know what the views and opinions are that surrounds this issue.

Best Regards,
Nina Nguyen
...


Hi Nina,

A hug, pat on the back, or hand on the shoulder is a natural way to be supportive. Being responsive to the feedback of the child is important. Not permitting physical touch is denying a basic human need.

If touch is not allowed for some reason, remember that we have a "voice and touch" in the way that we choose to be with and communicate with the young person.

Best of luck in your studies!

James Freeman
...

See also previous discussion threads below – Eds.

Boundaries 1

Boundaries 2

Boundaries 3

No-touch policy

Touch in CYC

Touch

Saying "I love you"
...

Not touching kids makes me nuts!!!

From Harry Harlow (1958) to Bruce Perry (2014) there is no justification for depriving children/teens of touch. Do we have use a boatload of discretion? Of course. Is this too much work? If we are going to be truly “therapeutic”, certainly not.

Lorraine Fox
...

Hi Lorraine,

I definitely agree because touch is a tough situation. Many children lack that at home and so to not have touch at all is difficult to give them that sense of security and belonging. But however, I do see the precautions of touch and boundaries in CYC field, where I can see instances where it could be a problem. However, we should not cut touch out completely but use it with intention to help a child and/or youth in their time of needing that support.

I love the quotes you used by the way! They are great. Thanks for replying back!

Nina
...

 Hi Nina,

I am also a CYC student at UFV, and I am currently working through an issue at work about boundaries and touch.

I work one-on-one with a preschool child with developmental disabilities. This child is very affectionate, and very often I, my co-workers, and even the other children get surprised by this child's hugs and kisses. We have come a long way in helping this child understand that "kissing is for family," and that "we should ask before we give hugs and kisses," but even so, this child only remembers about half the time. The last thing we want to do is to make him feel as though his spontaneity and caring nature is anything but good and positive, but it can lead to some awkward moments when my co-worker and I who are in charge of his support end up covered in (very wet) surprise kisses. We react by telling the child that they're very kind, but then remind them with one of the above statements. I wonder what more I can do to get this child to understand appropriate boundaries with friends and teachers so that they're ready for kindergarten.

I have discovered through this process of teaching (and learning to teach) boundaries at work that we must think about, and establish boundaries in terms of touch not only for ourselves for professional reasons, but also with children for social reasons. I firmly believe that children need touch in their lives to feel loved, safe, and cared for, but clearly they also need to understand boundaries, and so we must play a part in teaching them.

Kelsey Macpherson


Hi Kelsey,

Thank you for your comments. It is true that we need to help children develop boundaries for their own safety but also important to help with satiating sensory needs. It may be that this child (and I would anticipate this is the case based on your description) has experienced some form of trauma. This not only tends to blur our boundaries but also impacts executive functions such as impulse control, emotional regulation, memory, learning, and completely disrupts our sensory systems. For a child who is actively seeking touch there are many things you can do to meet this need in a safe way. Use of items such as weighted blankets or pillows, body sox, large swaddling blankets that they can snuggle up in, deep pressure massage through using a sensory / exercise ball and rolling it up and down their back with gentle pressure while they lay on their tummies etc are all helpful options. I would validate by saying something like "It looks like your body needs some comforting, I wonder if we can try...and notice how it feels." This will likely require a lot of repetition to create a shift but helps them to identify how they are feeling and better learn how to self-soothe. It may be that this child doesn't receive this in the home or that there was some form of intrauterine trauma that has disrupted his sensory system. Either way children seek out what they need which means he may also seek this out from others who are not safe and may violate rather than reinforce boundaries. When children get their sensory needs met however we tend to see the seeking behaviours reduce.

Lori Gill
...

Nina,

As a fellow CYC student, I feel that this is a tough subject that will be continually debated because of the nature of the profession. I believe that our relationship and connection with the children and youth we work with, will help us to determine when and what form of touch( i.e. a hug or pat on the back) is appropriate. While it is important that we have clear boundaries and follow the policies of those we work for, the one thing that seems clear to me is that the needs of the child must be what our intentional actions are focused and based on. Sometimes however, we may not be able to give support through touch because of policies and we will be frustrated… unfortunately, this is going to be an on going issue that we need to learn to adapt to.

Maryann Wozniak


Nina,

You write, "I find that it would be difficult to find a balance between being a professional but also, providing support that is intentional, where the child and/or youth will receive the necessary support that is needed to fulfil a positive change towards their development."

Isn't this a description of 'professional' caring? Aren't boundaries best when they are negotiated openly and transparently in the context of the life space of the folks we are caring for?

I work at a RTC/shelter care setting where I hear youth counselors call out "Boundaries!" when kids hug or kids touch or get into the same space of workers. It makes my skin crawl. Today for example this kid was injured after running out of the "cottage/unit" and requested getting a hug from a female client. The boy is 9 and the girl is 11. The girl does have a history of sexual abuse/ and boundary violations by adults so folks are especially hyper aware of her "boundaries." But we can't keep kids in bubbles. They need human contact. They need to learn what is good touch and what is not good touch. And to learn to speak up and feel confident in themselves to speak up, to learnt o ask for positive and powerful touch to co-regulate themselves.

I fear we live in a world where all touch is potentially risky so we carers must police our and out clients bodies like they are so much potential poison. Kids in care are often there because some adult or other kid did not respect their boundaries and so we become so fearful of further traumatizing kids, or getting sued ourselves or accused of 'inappropriate' touch that we just don't touch kids.

Doug Magnuson spoke on an earlier thread about how much of what is practiced as empirical based practice is really garbage or at worst hurtful and we must be vigilant to keep kids and carers safe. But bottom- line all kids need touch as mush as they need air, water and bread-dough... and exercise and challenging learning environments, and love. Touch should convey love and when it doesn't that touch needs to stop and youth and adults need to listen and work to better respect and live by healthy boundaries which promote optimal development.

Touch conveys our human connection.

Peter DeLong
...

That's a great question, and a tough one at that. I personally have not worked in a setting where there is a "no touch policy" -- I have only worked in settings where there is a strict policy. I think it's important to find a workplace that has a policy set in place to safeguard yourself, and the children you work with.

For example, I worked in an after-school and summer program, wherein touch to show a child support was allowed, but there were strict guidelines. The directors believed that touch was an integral part of supporting a child, but they also understood that abuse is a reality. In their policy, they made clear what was appropriate touch and what was not. In this case, appropriate touch included hugs — but only side hugs, holding a child’s hand, a pat on the head, back or shoulder, high-five's, etc. They even made note of what inappropriate touch was so that there was a clear understanding. It is also important to teach a child about boundaries, so that they understand and don't mistake the boundaries you have with them as uncaring or cold.

You can also find ways to support a child using other methods, paired with appropriate touch — if touch is permitted. I’m sure there are ways to show your support of a child without using touch, although I do understand the importance of it. All that being said, I think it is important that you are comfortable with the policy you are working with and know what will work for you as a CYC practitioner.

Hope this helps some,

Kyle M.
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