Rethinking the Holidays

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

The holidays can be a time of great anticipation as many of us look forward to seasonal traditions and gathering with relatives and friends. It is also a time when children learn social norms regarding consent, physical affection, body integrity, and gender roles – all of which impact their safety and wellbeing.

Hugs and Kisses

Have you ever heard an adult insist, “Uncle just got here, go give him a big hug!” or “Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss.” If yes, you might want to reconsider how you address this behavior in the future. Telling children that they owe someone a hug just because they haven’t seen a person in a while or because they received a gift can set the stage for risky situations later in life.

Do we want our children to grow into adults who believe that they owe someone physical affection if that someone buys them dinner or does something nice?

The lessons children learn about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected lasts a lifetime. Modeling protective behavior about consent early on can help children to understand their rights when lines are being crossed and that it’s safe to turn to adults for help. This involves giving children the space to decide when and how to show affection, such as “How would you like to say hello to Uncle?” or “You may thank Auntie with a hug, handshake, or smile.”

The Holiday Meal

Have you ever encountered someone who “polices the plates” at a seasonal feast? From grandma commenting on a child going back for seconds to other guests telling a child to eat up so that he or she can look good for the prom, the way families talk about bodies can leave its mark in serious ways.

Do we want our children to grow into adults who believe that their bodies are open source for public comment?

At big holiday dinners, unhealthy focus is sometimes put on how much (or how little) people at the table are eating. If you hear someone critiquing what a child chooses to eat, try saying something that promotes personal privacy in a positive way. “The food is delicious, and we’re in wonderful company. Let’s focus on that and let everyone enjoy the meal in their own way.”

Just Joking

From “Have you heard the one about the girl who…” to “That’s a job for a man!” chatter that was commonplace in years past has no place in a protective society. But when it’s your host or a beloved grandparent making the comment, the healthy response can be less than clear. Even if they mean no harm, it’s important to note that the youngest members of a family are looking to their elders as role models and listening to every single word.

Do we want our children to grow into adults who believe that they must quietly tolerate insensitive or demoralizing comments from those in authority?

If what is said degrades or generalizes someone in a negative manner, use it as an opportunity to model constructive ways of speaking up with confidence. Try something like, “You probably didn’t mean it this way, but that type of [joke/statement/comment] is hurtful. While I’ve got your ear, I heard you got a new job! Tell us about it!”

After-Dinner Chores

Boys and men are equally as capable as girls and women at clearing the table, putting away leftovers, and doing the dishes. Yet in many homes, these more domestic chores are still relegated to female family members while the guys are invited to kick back and relax in front of the TV. Social norms that reinforce inequality in childhood invite injustice later in life.

Do we want our children to grow into adults who believe that someone has the right to overpower them because of their gender?

If you know there’s traditionally been a gender imbalance when it comes to after-dinner cleanup and other chores, consider having a conversation with your immediate family leading up to the get-together. Tell your family that, because you don’t follow gender-based roles at home, you’re going to suggest that everyone—boys and girls, men and women—pitch in this year.

One way to make newly shared responsibilities go a bit more smoothly is to write the names of all guests on slips of paper and put them in a “chore jar.” Then the host can draw names out for specific jobs one-by-one at random. Fair and square.

Creating Culture

If you find yourself saying, “I never thought about that before,” consider yourself in good company. Most of us do not question the social norms that we uphold. They are woven neatly into our day-to-day activities and passed down through the ages. Becoming aware of what motivates our behavior, however, sets us apart as a species and empowers us to actively design culture that supports our highest values. Doing so makes creating a world without abuse possible.

Wishing you a warm and wonderful holiday season!


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Nearly 1,800 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


3 Reasons Santa’s Lap May NOT Be A Good Place For Kids

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director 

For many, the image of Santa Claus conjures up warm, happy thoughts of a jolly man in red, loaded down with gifts in a magical sleigh pulled by a talented team of reindeer, catching some serious air in the night sky. This beloved holiday figure embodies everything we adore about this time of year… a belief in good things for all.

However, there are a few aspects of the Santa holiday tradition that fly in the face of teaching body safety and proper boundaries to our kids… and the holidays offer adults a wonderful opportunity to reinforce basic rules that can help protect children from sexual abuse.

1) Let’s face it… not all kids like Santa’s lap.

Have you ever witnessed a child crying while sitting on Santa’s lap? It can happen for a variety of reasons, often stemming from a child’s fear of losing control of his or her own body for reasons that are difficult for a young mind to comprehend or accept. While photos with Santa can make for fun memories later in life, the act of forcing a child to sit on a stranger’s lap runs counter to important body safety rules that we must teach our kids.

Respecting a child’s wish to NOT make physical contact with someone — anyone — is a practice that our community must agree to follow if we are truly committed to keeping children safe. Cajoling children to pose or have physical contact with someone without their consent reinforces a social expectation that children should do as they are told, even if it violates their bodily integrity. Internalizing this expectation puts children at risk of being manipulated by predators. Keep in mind, sexual predators often take pictures or videos of their victims.

 2) Sexual predators frequently use gifts as a way to groom children.

Gift giving is a wonderful part of the holiday season. Socially, we are taught that gifts are selfless, thoughtful and virtuous expressions of love, friendship or respect. During the holidays, children receive gifts from people they know as well as from those they don’t, like Santa or distant relatives. This time of year offers a great opportunity to teach children to show all gifts that they receive to their caregivers.

Why is this so important? Sexual predators often lure children into trusting them by giving gifts that can range from candy to toys to even bigger things! Showering children with gifts and special attention is a grooming tactic to elicit comfort and investment in the predatory relationship.

Sadly, over 90% of children who are sexually abused know, love or trust their molesters. In other words, people who harm children are most often in a child’s circle of family or friends. Talking with children about gifts or special favors keeps adults mindful of what’s happening in a child’s sphere of relationships and empowers adults with the knowledge to determine if cautionary action is required. Writing thank you cards together is a perfect platform for tallying all gestures of affection.

3) Forced hugging or kissing of relatives is a bad idea.

Do you have a relative who means well but always insists on kissing or hugging your child? Are you one of those relatives yourself? It cannot be overstated that forcing children to kiss grandma or hug Uncle Buck flies in the face of body safety rules that, if followed, help keep kids safe.

Tragically, 30% of child sexual abuse incidents are committed by family members. Parents and step-parents. Uncles and aunts. Grandparents and cousins.

Instead of making your child hug or kiss a family member, step in and say, “We are teaching Emma about body safety and personal boundaries, so we respect her when she does not want to be touched by others, no matter how innocent… but I’ll take that hug!” (Then give your relative a big hug.) Another option would be to encourage kids to give high-fives instead of hugs.

Kids can even high-five Santa if they feel comfortable doing so. ♥

The best way to help others understand safety expectations is to model the behavior you hope to see. Ask every child, including your own, for permission before giving a hug or high five. Ask your spouse or partner permission before showing them affection, especially when in front of children.

Holiday Tips for Caregivers

In addition to supporting your child in his or her decision to respect body boundaries, here are a few more tips for caregivers to help keep kids safe during the holidays:

  1. Take a moment to remind your child about body safety rules. This can be done in a very child-friendly, non-scary and simple way. For tips on how to have these talks with your child, learn more at Team Zero.
  2. When going to parties at places unfamiliar to your child, walk around with your child and identify the rooms that are okay to go in, as well as other areas they should avoid.
  3. Make an agreement with your child that s/he will check-in periodically with you during the party or holiday event you are attending.
  4. If cocktails are served at the event, please keep yourself in check. If your senses are obstructed, that can present an open door to a sexual predator to gain ready access to your child… again, sexual predators are indeed among us. The sad fact is, they hide in plain sight and are often people most of us think “would never do that to a child.”

The greatest gift we can give ourselves and our children is a commitment to keeping them safe. When we agree to protect our children above all else — even when it means opting out of long-held customs and traditions — then we will be creating a world within which all children may flourish.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.