Talk About It!
Infant-to-Teen Sexual Abuse Prevention & Body Safety Education
All parents should know two truths:
- It’s NEVER too early to begin teaching children about sexual abuse prevention or “body safety”.
- Kids who KNOW body safety rules are 100% better prepared to deal with attempted sexual abuse than children who are kept in the dark.
As we adults begin thinking about child sexual abuse, we immediately think of the tragic realities of this crime. How could we ever talk with a young child about such a grown-up and scary topic?
Well, I have some good news for you… it’s really pretty easy and YOU CAN DO IT!
Keep in mind that children who have not been exposed to the concept of sexual abuse don’t think about it in the same way we adults do. Talking with kids about body safety doesn’t have to be difficult… just frame your conversations in ways that are age-relevant. And while you’re at it, let’s also empower our kids to take action if they ever need to.
So, how can you do that?
For starters, make a habit of practicing “Sound-bite Parenting” as your child grows… basically, share small bits (a.k.a. “sound-bites”) of information that reinforce key messages in different ways, at different times, depending on the age and development of your child.
Small Child = Small Lessons
Infants – 2 years old: This is a PERFECT time to begin teaching body safety! Your child will be learning about the world around him and putting words to the things he sees and experiences.
- As you teach your child about his “head”, “hands” and “feet”, also teach him (or her) the proper names for all his private body parts – “penis”, “breasts”, “anus”, “vagina”.
- Use everyday moments like bath time or getting dressed in the morning to have your child identify her “private parts” and reinforce that private means something that “is just for her”. It’s a simple exercise that can be lighthearted and positive… and is a message she will remember.
- Begin talking about how no one is allowed to touch his private parts for “no good reason or just to play a game” and if someone does try, he should tell you right away! (Special shout-out to my friends at Chaucie’s Place Child Advocacy Center in central Indiana for sharing this language as part of its “Smart Steps” body safety program.)
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests all parents develop a Child ID Kit. The information in this kit would aid law enforcement in the event your child is ever lost or abducted. Please be sure to maintain updated photos of your child!
3 – 5 years old: Your child may now be talking and learning at a rapid rate. Continue building on the previous lessons, turning simple everyday events into teachable moments and begin introducing additional body safety building blocks. For children who are developmentally delayed, continue reinforcing the previous messages and introduce new ones at a level they can comprehend.
- Empower your child to say “NO!” to someone who ever tries to touch a private body part… practice having your child use his outdoor voice to actually yell, “NO!” Even though this is a serious message, have some fun with it! It will help him better retain it, too.
- Around 90% of child sexual abuse cases involve someone the child or parent knows, loves or trusts. Because of this, it’s crucial to…
- Reinforce that NO ONE is allowed to touch a private body part for no good reason or just to play a game – that includes family and friends, as well as people that may have ‘important jobs’ like nannies, teachers, coaches or doctors.
- It’s also important to balance that message and discuss times when it’s acceptable for someone to touch a private body part; times when it’s helping the child’s health and is for a “good reason”:- Doctor’s appointment with mom or dad in the room
– Mom, dad or another trusted adult helping put ointment on a skin rash
– Mom, dad or another trusted adult helping child bathe or go to the bathroom
- Always use a washcloth or bath mitt when bathing your child. Other relatives, baby sitters, etc. may do this in your stead, so be sure your child knows that a washcloth should always be used at bath time. Sexual predators look for opportunities, one of which is bathroom activity that may involve skin-on-skin contact. Periodically check with your child after someone has helped him bathe to be sure a washcloth was used… you can make it an innocent inquiry like, “Hey, what color was the washcloth grandpa used for your bath?” If your child responds, “Grandpa didn’t use a washcloth,” then you know to investigate this further.
- Emphasize privacy as your child learns to use the bathroom by herself. Also, reinforce the use of toilet paper or wipes for the same reasons previously noted.
- Develop a Contact Plan with your child in the event he should ever be separated from you while you are traveling, shopping or out somewhere in public. It’s important to teach your child his full name and spelling (depending on age), YOUR full name, YOUR phone number (cell and home) and your home address (at a minimum, teach her your city and state).
- There are some terrific body safety children’s books on the market today! These can serve as fabulous parenting tools, as well as educational stories for your kids. Some of my personal favorites are:
– “Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept” by Jayneen Sanders
– “A Secret Safe To Tell” by Naomi Hunter
– “No Trespassing: This is MY Body!” by Pattie Fitzgerald
– “Lauren’s Kingdom” by Lauren Book (New Release)