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From Chapter 3: Teaching about Privacy
Public and Private Places
Once your child is able to distinguish between public and private body parts, you can begin helping him apply this concept to other aspects of his life. Explaining that there are public and private places is one example of this.
I think it's important to point out that although everyone has a right to privacy, there are responsibilities that go along with these rights. If there are safety concerns with your child (for example, there is a risk he may injure himself or others), rights to privacy are obviously going to be more limited and restrictive. Likewise, if you are still working on helping your child master independence with morning routines, and he needs significant monitoring and supervision, opportunities for privacy will be more limited. You will need to decide when your child will be ready for the teaching activities I suggest below. Timing can vary greatly for every child and family, but typically at some point during adolescence you can begin to help your son or daughter understand his or her privacy rights and responsibilities.
Some indicators that your child could benefit from more direct instruction about public and private concepts:
- Your child is beginning to develop physically (puberty onset)
- Peers, siblings, or other family members are embarrassed or uncomfortable by your child's lack of modesty
- Your child is performing private behaviors in public places (at home or in the community)
- Inappropriate behaviors (masturbation, hugging) are interfering with your child's ability to connect and form relationships with others
When the time is right, you could introduce this concept of privacy by saying, "Now that your body is starting to change," or "You're entering middle school," or "You're 14 now," (or any other statement that represents a transition that has meaning for your child), "You may find that you want to be by yourself and not be bothered."
Next, identify rooms in your home that are private. Most families choose either the child's bedroom (if it is not shared) and/or the bathroom. Explain that these are places he should go if he wants to be alone or do private things (change clothes, masturbate, etc.). Share information with all family members regarding rules you want applied when using or encountering private areas. Let them know that a closed door is a sign a family member wants to be in private. When doors to private spaces are closed, family members should knock and wait for permission before entering. Similarly, if your child wants privacy, he should close his door and expect others to knock and listen for a response before entering. People learn to respect the privacy of others when their rights to privacy are observed and respected.
When my children were younger, they constantly ignored my attempts at privacy. I know this is common, but difficult when you live in a small house with one bathroom. After thinking about how I could teach privacy, I realized that they had learned many of the behaviors I wanted to eliminate by watching me. I needed to help them understand the importance of privacy for me and for them. I began modeling the behaviors I expected from them: I knocked on doors and waited for a response before entering anyone's room. When they barged into my room, I asked them to knock. When they took a shower, I spoke through the door rather than entering the bathroom. If they needed help, I would help and then let them know I was leaving so they could be in private.
Although my younger daughter grasped the concept of respecting a closed door, I often found her peering through the glass windows of her sister's door. I realized that her bedroom was not really private if others could look in whenever they wanted. I sewed some curtains to cover the windows and attempted to help my younger daughter understand the subtle ways she violated her sister's rights to privacy. We still have a long way to go, but my daughter with Down syndrome clearly understands what "privacy" means and regularly lets know when she wants to be in private--a big step.
Teaching Activity: "My Private Places at Home"
When your son or daughter is just learning about private places in your home, visual cues enhance comprehension and help with discrimination. Clearly identify (verbally or with pictures) rooms that have the potential to be private places for your child. Private places are rooms where your child can go if he wants to be alone or have time to himself. Take pictures of these rooms, then label and laminate them. For example, a picture could be labeled "Justina's private place." Place them on a connector ring to use as a routine visual reminder when your child does something in public that he should do in private at home. In the home, public rooms can be defined as those places where other family members can go at any time without knocking. Use the drawing in appendix B-2 to emphasize that private places are places where one person can be alone.