We’re going to start this post by giving a big thumbs up to all parents and guardians out there. You’re all doing a great job and the fact that you’re asking yourself “how do I teach my child body safety?” is enough proof. Parenting is a never-ending task that requires you not only ask these questions but that you actively seek answers, like you’re doing now. And we hail you for that. Now to tackle the matter at hand: how do you teach kids about body safety? We’ll be taking you through easy yet effective ways to give your kids the power to protect themselves from sexual abuse. If you’d like to watch a video on the matter, scroll to the bottom of this page. Don’t forget to leave us your thoughts in the comments.
What is body safety?
Let’s start by understanding the concept of body safety. It’s essentially all the guidelines and boundaries we put in place to protect our bodies from abuse and the dangers that it can ultimately pose to our well-being. It’s easier for us to do this as adults but kids have to be taught and empowered to do so. Body Safety Education is one of the many resource materials available to parents and caregivers on this subject, you might want to check it out. It’s your responsibility as their parent to teach them these guidelines and boundaries so that there’s a lesser chance of anyone taking advantage of their innocence and vulnerability. And you know what the best part is? You can do in an age-appropriate way that’s easy for them to understand and relate to. Here’s how:
Teach them about public and private parts
By age 3, most kids become curious about their body parts and since most would have gotten a hang of speech production by now, it’s a great time to start naming parts. And some of the best times to do this include bath time and at potty or toilet training. You can point to each part and say “these are your fingers and these are your toes. This is your mouth; these are your eyes and this is your nose”. Teach them the difference between public and private body parts and use their proper names. Using proper names like “penis” or “vagina” will make it clear to any adult what they’re talking about when they’re reporting an abuse.
An easy way to teach your child the difference between public and private parts is by relating it to a swimsuit. The parts of their body that the swimsuit covers are their private parts e.g. Buttocks, breasts, nipples, the penis and the vagina. The other parts of their body that aren’t covered by the swimsuit are their public parts e.g. Hands and legs. Tell your child that other than his parents and himself, no one has any right to see, take pictures of or touch his private parts. The doctor is allowed to but only when you, his parent, are around.
N.B: The mouth is also consider a private zone. They should report if anyone is trying to kiss them on the lips or put things or body parts in their mouth.
Safe and unsafe touching
Most times, children who have been sexually abused don’t tell anyone about it because of the feelings of guilt. When we categorize bodily contact as “good” and “bad”, those feelings of guilt are definitely sure to come around. The abuser may make the child may feel guilty for doing a bad thing and use that guilt to keep her quiet. One way to prevent this from happening is to use the words “safe” and “unsafe”. You need to tell her that apart from you, it’s unsafe for anyone else to touch their private parts. It’s also good for you to teach them that it’s unsafe to touch other people or other children in their private parts.
Talk about what it means to feel safe and unsafe
It’s important to talk about feelings with your child; help them recognize and understand their feelings. This way, they’ll be better at telling the difference between safe and unsafe situations and respond appropriately. When it comes to safety, there are early warning signs that everyone gets, including our children. You can teach them to say “I have a sick feeling in my tummy” or “my heart is beating faster”. Tell them that whenever they feel like this, they can say no to whatever it is that’s causing them to feel that way. Teach your child to say no, leave the scene and discuss it with you or a trusted adult. Other early warning signs your child may have include sweaty palms, dry mouth, heated cheeks, weak knees and goose bumps.
Encourage your child to always listen to her guts and become uncooperative if she’s feeling uneasy about a situation. Talk about what it means to feel uneasy. If she feels that what’s happening isn’t right and feels anyway but good about the person or what she’s being asked to do, she should say no and leave the scene as she could be in an unsafe situation. Teach your child to scream if she’s being held against her will and come tell you or a trusted adult if anyone makes them feel unsafe.
Unhealthy and unhealthy secrets
People who sexually abuse children often threaten or talk them into keep it secret. Teaching your children to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy secrets helps them understand that certain secrets aren’t safe to keep. Tell them that keeping information about a surprise party from the celebrant is quite different from doing the same about unsafe touches. The former makes everyone happy while the latter can make them feel unsafe.
Clarifying on feelings
Now, there may be times when unsafe touches don’t feel bad; rather they may feel ticklish or even good. Children need to understand that even if an unsafe touch felt good, they still have to talk about it, with you or a trusted adult. Have your children understand that they’re to report to you or a trusted adult if they are asked by any person – adult or older child – to keep an unsafe touch secret. Basically, discuss how secret touching is also an unsafe touch and should be treated as such.
Help your child create a safety network
Help your children identify at least 5 trusted adults they could tell if a person does touch them in their private parts or makes them feel unsafe. These 5 adults can include an older teenager and someone who isn’t a family member. The reason your child needs a safety network is because the perpetrator may scare your child out of telling you; so it’s important they have other people they could tell such things to.
Perpetrators of sexual abuse rely heavily on scaring their victims. It is important your child knows that they can tell you or any of the trusted adults in their safety network about such incidents without getting in trouble or risking punishment. Another important thing is your response as they tell you about such incidents. Responding with anger or visible distress may make your child shut down and reluctant to come to you in the future. Stay calm and reassuring as they narrate their experience so that you’ll have higher chances of getting the whole story. What’s more, the fact that they can tell you anything will be reinforced.
Have the body Safety talk again and again
Thanks to their young age, it’s easy for children to convert these body safety skills you’re teaching them into lifelong habits. However, you’ll have to repeat these lessons often because children learn best by repetition. One way to make this fun for you and your child is by role playing. You can pretend to be a grown up or older kid who wants to touch them inappropriately. Have them respond by saying no, leaving the scene or screaming.
This will help them remember what to do if they are ever in such situations; it’ll make it easier for them to do it. Moreover, they’ll become more comfortable talking about these things with you; and that’s definitely something most parents want as their children reach puberty.
One of the good things about giving your children these lessons is that it’ll help them gain confidence and be assertive. These two things are necessary for a successful adult life. We really hope our post has been able to answer your “how do I teach my child body safety?” question. Raising a family can be tasking but it’s a worthwhile experience. If you have babies or toddlers and would like some information on keeping them safe, you can check out our childproofing post. We also have a post on child safety that’ll help you with info on how to keep your children safe at home, on the road and on the internet.