For many parents, this is a hectic time of year. School is just around the corner and your To Do list is out of control. There is one item, though, that parents of young children should be sure to add to the top of their never ending to do lists: talk to your child about body parts and boundaries.
I know, I know. It’s not exactly a fun or comfortable conversation to have with your children. But, research shows that the best way to protect children from abuse is to teach them how to protect themselves. There’s no denying you will be your child’s number one cheerleader and protector, but you must prepare your child for those times that you won’t be there to stand up for him or her.
For example, your child will soon develop relationships with many adults and other children through school, athletic activities, and extracurricular activities. Although most adults and children will be a positive influence, you should prepare your child for those rare instances when someone might try to negatively influence them.
Here are four easy steps for parents to follow in teaching your child self-protection skills:
1. Teach your child the names of his or her body parts. From a very young age, you can start talking to your child about their body parts. During bath time, refer to the child’s body parts by their correct names. Saying the real words might be difficult for you, and that’s okay. Many of us were raised using different words for our genitals. If you choose to use a different word, though, make sure it is one that is easily recognizable as a word for that body part. If your child is touched inappropriately and tells their teacher or another adult, you want to make sure that adult understands what they are telling them.
2. Teach your child who can touch his or her body. A good time to have this conversation is during bath time. Explain to your child who trusted people are and what situations are and aren’t okay.
3. Teach your child to tell a “safe adult” if someone tries to touch his or her body parts. You can continue the bath time conversation by asking your child what to do if they are in a bad situation. Let your child answer you how they would respond. Help guide them to the correct response, which is that they should stop that person and tell a “safe adult.” This might be their teacher, a friend’s parent, a grandparent, an aunt, or you. List out a number of “safe adults” for them. Make sure your child is equipped to know that they can tell any “safe adult” in his or her life!
4. Teach your child they will never get in trouble for telling you anything related to their safety. Child molesters often manipulate their victims into not telling about the abuse. They do this by threatening the child and convincing the child that they will get in trouble if they tell. On a regular basis, talk to your child about their friends and other adults in their life. Let them know they can tell you anything, even if they are scared they will get into trouble.
Sometimes it is difficult trying to balance the need to have these serious conversations with the fact that you don’t want to scare your child into thinking there are tons of “bad guys” out there. That’s why you should always reiterate to your kids that most adults are there to help them and love them.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how to balance these two competing interests, so leave a comment for other moms to read.
Written by Angelique Dale
Angelique is a mom whose goal is to help other moms and youth-serving programs keep children safe. You can find more of her work on SafeMom.org. Learn more