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Kidpower teaches people of all ages and abilities how to be persistent in protecting their personal boundaries by using role plays to give students positive practice with holding their boundary through the five Levels of Intrusion.™

Kidpower’s curriculum uses the five Levels of Intrusion to describe the progression that people often follow when they are trying to pressure someone to lower their boundaries. The five levels are when someone:

1) Doesn’t notice your boundary;

2) Doesn’t listen to your boundary;

3) Uses emotional coercion by trying to make you feel badly about setting a boundary;

4) Breaks safety rules or crosses the line to try to get you to let go of your boundary by offering an unsafe bribe, making threats, misusing power, or breaking the safety rules about private areas.

5) Tries to make you promise not to tell or to not make a report.

The various reasons for someone using these levels of intrusion might range from thoughtlessness or self-centeredness, to experiments with negative uses of power, to deliberately grooming a child for sexual abuse.

Instead of talking with children about intrusion, motivation, or sexual abuse; Kidpower’s approach focuses on using every day potentially annoying or unsafe behaviors in role plays to give students practice in using skills that can address these boundary problems most of the time.

We use simple examples that are emotionally safe, age-appropriate, and relevant for the lives of our students about problems, both with adults and peers, about unwanted touch, affection, or games – such as a hand on a shoulder, playing too rough, hugging, kissing, teasing, etc.

In workshops, we practice these role plays after we have introduced the Kidpower Consent Checklist for Touch or Play for Fun and Affection, which (in summary) is that: “The ways you show that you like someone or want to play should be: (1) safe, (2) the choice of each person, (3) allowed by the adults in charge, and (4) should not have to be a secret.”

Kidpower teaches students what to say and what to do to protect their boundaries at each of the five Levels of Intrusion™:

1. Doesn’t Notice.

We say,Suppose someone doesn’t notice that their behavior is bothering you. Your first job is to tell them in a strong and respectful way, using your eyes, your words, and your body. Even if you like something at first, it is okay to change your mind.”

Helping a child with special needs practice making the “Stop” fence with their hands.

To practice, you can put a hand on your student’s shoulder in a matter-of-fact (NOT creepy) way and coach the student to firmly and calmly pick up and give back your hand, look you in the eyes, and say, “Please stop,” using a firm and clear voice.

2. Doesn’t Listen.

We say, “Suppose someone doesn’t listen by repeating the behavior and/or saying something dismissive.” We point out simply that sometimes other people don’t listen or hear our boundary the first time – and that we ourselves also don’t always listen to someone’s boundary the first time.

To practice, put your hand back on your student’s shoulder and say plaintively, “Oh, but we always do this.” Or, “You know you like this.” Coach your student to stand up, take a step back, make a fence toward you with their hands, and say in a polite and firm voice, “I said stop! I don’t like it.”

3. Tries to Make You Wrong / Uses Emotional Coercion.

Exaggerating her “hurt feelings” a little bit helps keep it fun, while still allowing kids to practice vital skills to stop emotional coercion.

We say, “This is when someone gets upset and tries to make you feel badly for setting a boundary. The reality is that most of us don’t like being told what to do or being told that we did something wrong. We can show that we care about someone and want to be respectful while still setting our boundary.”

To practice: After your student has told you to stop, say sadly, “That hurts my feelings. If you liked me, you’d let me put my hand on your shoulder.” Or, a little angrily, “That’s disrespectful.”

Coach your student to stand up, take a step back, make their fence, and say, “I don’t mean to make you sad (or to be disrespectful), and please stop.” Or, “I am sorry you are sad, and I still want you to stop.” Or simply, “I’m sorry, and please stop.”

Being able to recognize emotional coercion, acknowledge other’s feelings, and still set clear, respectful, and firm boundaries is an important life skill for lots of situations.

4. Breaks The Safety Rules/Crosses the Line.

You can use mirroring to coach a child to keep up the fence with their hands, while they say “Stop” to protect personal boundaries.

We say, “There are different ways someone might break the safety rules or cross the line to get you to let go of your boundary – such as offering an unsafe bribe, misusing their power, making a threat, or breaking the safety rules about private areas.”

To practice, you can offer an unsafe bribe by saying, “I’ll give you all the candy you want (or some other example relevant for this student) if you will just let me put my hand on your shoulder.” Coach the student to stand up, step back, make their fence, look you in the eyes, and say, “Stop or I’ll tell.”

For older kids and teens, you can explain that, to an adult or someone who is greater in power, they can say, “Stop or I’ll report you.” If this problem is with a peer crossing the line, they can also say, “Stop, or else I will leave.” Or, “Stop, or else you have to leave.”

You can help students practice role plays about misuse of power in ways that are not too intense where you say, “I’m bigger than you, so you have to do what I say.” Or, “I’ll tell everyone how dumb you are if you don’t do what I want.” Again, coach your student to say, “Stop or I’ll tell.”

Tell your students that, even if the difficult person you are pretending to be stops, their job is to get to safety as soon as possible and tell an adult they trust about what happened. Remind them that problems should never have to be secrets and that they should keep telling adults they trust, even if the first one doesn’t help, until they do get the help they need.

5. Tries to Make You Promise Not to Tell.

Parents and kids practicing skills together to be safe.

In Kidpower workshops, parents and kids can learn and practice boundary skills together to be safe.

For kids who are about 7 years or older, we explain that, “although most of the time we want you to tell the truth and keep your promises, you might need to tell an Emergency Lie if someone tries to make you promise not to tell. This is okay because you are doing it to be safe and you are going to get help from an adult you trust as soon as you can.”

It’s very important that when we practice role plays about threats we are always very careful to say low-level threats that are emotionally safe and age-appropriate. We do not want to put any images into a child’s mind that don’t need to be there.

After your student has made space between you, made their fence, and said, “Stop or I’ll tell!” you can practice this by saying in a non-intense way, “Please don’t tell. I couldn’t hang out with you if you tell.” Or, “You’d better not tell, or I’ll get you into trouble.”

Coach your student to step back, keep up their fence, look at you, and make their Emergency Lie by saying, “I won’t tell, if you stop.” Remind students that, once they get away from this difficult person you are pretending to be, they need to tell an adult they trust about what has happened, and to keep telling until they get the help they need.

After these practices, we then have our students practice being persistent and effective in interrupting busy, impatient adults in a way that allows them to tell or make their report about the safety problem.

We also encourage adults to make our Kidpower Protection Promise to every child you might be in a position to support – so that they know you care and that you are an adult they can trust to help with problems.

We have many other free and low cost resources for explaining and practicing these skills including these articles, ebooks, and print publications:


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Published: January 18, 1998   |   Last Updated: March 30, 2021

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Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.

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