Appropriate and Inappropriate Physical Boundaries

This material about physical boundaries for adults working with children comes from Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church’s 2009 “Safe Church Policies and Guidelines For Children in Childcare.”

Respect, safety, and appropriate boundaries are the guiding principles for physical contact between childcare workers and children. The guidelines below are intended to avoid contact that is or may appear threatening or inappropriate.

Love and affection are part of church life and ministry. There are many ways to demonstrate affection while maintaining positive and safe boundaries with children. Examples of positive and appropriate forms of affection:

  • Brief hugs or side hugs
  • Pats on the shoulder, back or head
  • Handshakes
  • High‐fives, hand slapping and fist taps
  • Verbal praise
  • Touching hands, faces, shoulders and arms of children or youth
  • Arms around shoulders
  • Holding hands while walking with small children
  • Sitting beside small children
  • Kneeling or bending down for hugs with small children
  • Holding hands during group prayer

The following forms of affection are considered inappropriate with children and youth in ministry setting because many of them are the behaviors that child molesters use to groom children and their parents for later molestation or can be, in and of themselves, sexual abuse.

  • Inappropriate or lengthy embraces
  • Kisses
  • Holding children over three years old on the lap
  • Touching bottoms, chests or genital areas other than for appropriate diapering or toileting of infants and toddlers
  • Showing affection in isolated areas such as bedrooms, closets, staff only areas or other private rooms
  • Touching knees or legs of children or youth
  • Wrestling with children or youth
  • Tickling children or youth
  • Piggyback rides
  • Any type of massage given by a child or youth to an adult
  • Any type of massage given by an adult to a child or youth
  • Any form of unwanted affection
  • Giving gifts or money to individual children or youth
  • Private meals with individual children or youth