Respecting Children's Bodies: 4 Examples to Apply in Everyday Life

By respecting children's bodies, we teach them to understand their needs, to take care of themselves, and to know how to set limits.
Respecting Children's Bodies: 4 Examples to Apply in Everyday Life
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 05 April, 2023

Parents, teachers, and other responsible adults are responsible for the well-being and safety of children. Of course, they must be attentive to their needs, take care of them, and guide them in situations that may pose a risk. But this doesn’t mean that there are no limits. In fact, one of the main ones is to respect children’s bodies. It may even be necessary to work on it and understand its importance.

We aren’t talking about avoiding physical abuse, aggressiveness, or neglect; of course, we all understand that these types of acts have no place in parenting. However, in this case, we’re referring to more subtle behaviors that adults carry out with good intentions on a daily basis, but that can be invasive and uncomfortable for children. We’ll tell you more below.

What does it mean to respect children’s bodies?

If we want to implement a respectful and positive educational style, we must always keep in mind that children are individual beings. This means that they’re not an extension of us and, therefore, they must have a certain sovereignty and right to decide about themselves. And we, as adults, have to help them set their own limits and respect them.

For many parents, caring for their children means deciding for them and manipulating their bodies and environment to keep them comfortable and safe. And we can see this in many everyday situations. For example, taking fixing our child’s hair while they’re playing or taking their jackets off because we think it’s too hot.

Many children react with anger or annoyance in these situations. They even try to rebel against the adult and insist on putting their coats back or messing their hair back up. This shouldn’t be seen as the defiant behavior of a disobedient child, but rather as a request for you to respect their limits. And it’s something natural if we take into account the fact that, in those moments, we’re being invasive.

Many times, adults invade children’s space without even thinking about it.

How can we respect children’s bodies?

Maybe this seems like an exaggerated view, but the truth is that with small changes, we can offer good care and be more respectful. Here are some examples that can be applied in everyday life.

Don’t take their needs for granted

Adults often make decisions and take actions for the well-being of children, but without really taking their needs into account. For example, we put on or take off their clothes depending on how we feel or force them to eat until they finish their plate.

Instead, we can pay attention to what they feel and need. To do this, we can ask them before we act. For example, we could say “I feel hot. Do you feel hot? Do you want to take off your sweater or are you okay like this?” or, in the other case, we could say “Do you want to eat more or is that enough? Shall I help you finish your plate or would you prefer me to take it away?”

With this way of acting, we help children to be in touch with their needs and bodily sensations and to use them as a guide. In addition, we show respect for their needs and decisions. If we act without asking, we gradually disconnect them from that physical guidance and may not help them to truly feel better at the moment.

Warn and don’t invade

Sometimes there is a valid need to manipulate children’s bodies to help them with their hygiene and appearance. However, it’s much more positive if we warn them before carrying out our actions. For example, if you want to wipe your child’s face, you can say “you got yogurt on your face, can I wipe it off with the wipe?” Or, if while playing on the playground, their clothes got out of place, you can say “I’m going to help you straighten your pants, okay?”

Although it may seem trivial, this is much less invasive than doing it without warning. And, by putting ourselves in their situation, no adult would want someone else to clean or rearrange our clothes without asking for permission.

A little girl giving her mom a kiss on the cheek during a picnic in the park.
It’s important to allow your child to decide whether to give a kiss or a hug when meeting a family member or other person.

Allow them to choose

Respecting children’s bodies is also about allowing them to choose in certain situations. Not only in terms of hygiene and personal care but also in terms of affection. For example, asking a child “Do you want to give auntie a kiss?” or “Can I give you a hug?”. For many adults, it may sound illogical, but by letting them decide when they allow others to invade their space, we provide them with criteria to prevent uncomfortable and dangerous situations in the future.

Encourage their autonomy

Finally, it’s also very positive that, instead of taking action directly on the child’s body, we guide them so that they can do it themselves. If, for example, we see that the child’s about to put the sleeves of their shirt in their food, we don’t have to run to roll up their sleeves. On the contrary, we can alert them to what’s happening and encourage them to look for the solution by themself.

Respecting children’s bodies has great long-term benefits

We live in an adult-centric society in which it’s considered normal and valid for adults to take care of children without thinking about their limits or spaces. This happens often, even if it’s always with love and in search of their well-being. For this reason, asking a child’s permission to wipe their nose, comb their hair, arrange their clothes, or give them a kiss may seem out of place. However, it’s a key exercise in teaching assertiveness and self-respect.

As your child grows up, you want them to be safe, know how to set limits, have self-control, and be free from abuse. But this training has to start from childhood and at home.

By respecting children’s bodies, we show them that they have sovereignty over themselves. Also, we teach them that no one can touch them without their permission, that others shouldn’t make them uncomfortable, and that they have the right to say no. We thus raise a generation of children with a sense of responsibility who are confident and self-assured, able to know what they want and need, and willing to stand up for themselves with respect and assertiveness. And these are extremely valuable skills that we foster with these small daily changes.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Horno Goicoechea, P. (2018) La importancia de la prevención: la educación afectivo-sexual en las distintas etapas de la niñez-adolescencia. Espirales, consultoría de infancia.
  • González Coto, M., & Saénz Cubillo, N. (2020). Crianza Respetuosa: Hacia una parentalidad centrada en las niñas y los niños. Estudios, (41), 428-450.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.