As we raise our children, we teach them to say please and thank you, to be polite, and to show respect to the adults in their lives. We try to protect them from harm without wrapping them in bubble wrap and waiting until they turn 18 to let them out. There is nothing wrong with expecting and modeling good behavior to our children, but one of the ways in which we can protect our children is by also raising an assertive child by instilling in him the ability to say no – to anyone.

As most of us have watched in horror as stories unfold across the country, protecting our children is not nearly as easy as we think it is. The only way to really protect them is to get real with them. Be honest and straightforward with them. Don’t sugar coat and don’t insulate them from the real world. And model not only the behavior you want to see in them but the behavior you expect others to have with them. Teach your kids how others should behave toward them.

For example, I love my granddaughter. Love her so much I could just eat her up (please recognize that I would not actually eat my granddaughter, it’s just an expression – you never know these days what will get taken out of context). I could hold her and cuddle her and kiss her all over her face all day, every day for the rest of her life and never need a break from it. But as much as I’m tempted to do so, I don’t just grab her and smother her. I ask her if Nana can have a cuddle. I ask if Nana can have a hug. I ask if Nana can have a kiss. And if she says no – through her words (she just learned to say “no”), through shaking her head no (which she’s been able to do since she was less than a year old), or by physically demonstrating that she doesn’t want Nana loves, I respect that. I don’t make her feel guilty about saying no, and her parents do not tell her it is her obligation to give loves and hugs to nana and papa. She is in no way made to feel as if she has no control over her own body.

She is 18 months old, and no means no.

Yes, it starts that early. And it should never end. You should demonstrate the same respect as your kids get older. Yes, you have to be the example – but not just for the behaviors you want your kids to exhibit but for the adult behaviors you want them expect as normal and typical.

As parents, we must do two things: help our kids understand – in an age-appropriate way – the dangers that exist. Talk to your kids about their bodies and teach them that not all bad guys are strangers or scary looking. And we must establish and maintain appropriate boundaries with the influential people in your children’s lives – including yourself. Not only do you have to teach your kids how to behave but you must teach your kids how others should behave.

Parents for Megan’s Law has an excellent resource for helping parents set appropriate boundaries with the adults in kids’ lives, from coaches and teachers to relatives.