12 Things to Teach Children About Body Safety
Note: This is Part III in a three-part series about Child Sexual Abuse. If you’re wanting to learn the signs of sexual abuse in children, as well as the signs to look for in potential sexual abusers, please go on ahead to Part I of this series. If you want to learn about what to do if a child’s being abused, go to Part II of this series.
As scary as the idea of child sexual abuse is, I want to encourage you – it is preventable. Prevention is best established when families, communities and agencies work together to keep children and families informed. Even if you don’t have the ability to partner with your local community or agencies, the strategies and lessons you’ll learn here are still vital for your child’s safety, so begin implementing these strategies today, sis!
Teaching Body Safety to Your Children
Whether you’re a parent to a newborn or to a 10-year-old, you can begin to teach body safety literally at any age. The point of body safety education is to empower your children with the tools they need to lessen their chances of ever becoming a victim of sexual abuse.
To sum it up, body safety education teaches children:
- they have the right over their bodies
- they can be assertive over what happens to their body
- there is such thing as safe and unsafe touch
- the actions they can take if they are touched inappropriately
- the right names for their private parts
- not to keep secrets that make them feel uncomfortable
- to keep telling trusted adults until someone believes them
To give you a little more insight on how to go about implementing some of these principles, here are 12 things you can begin to teach in your home today:
1. Call Body Parts by Their Name
It’s common that us parents make nickname for our children’s private parts, but in body safety education it’s encouraged that we don’t. Abusers tend to use “playful” nicknames to lure children into inappropriate situations, so it becomes confusing for children when they’re used to using playful names. If our children know the correct names for their private parts they’ll be equipped with tools needed to speak clearly about what hopefully never happens to them. Side Note: If you think about it, we give nicknames to our children’s private parts, yet we often don’t give nicknames to any other parts of their body – so it’s kind of like… why give nickname to any parts?
2. Body Parts are Private
The general term used to describe sexual organs is often, “private parts.” So, teach your children exactly that – that their private parts are private. Let them know that their private parts are not for anyone to see, but mama and papa – and that even then, it’s only during appropriate times (i.e. bath time, changing time, diaper changing time, doctor’s appointments when mama and papa are present, etc.). By instilling this in our children, they’ll know whether it’s right or wrong when an adult or older child makes them do something that steps over this boundary.
3. Body Boundaries
Speaking of boundaries, abusers often request children to touch parts of their body to begin shifting their relationship with the child in a sexual direction. That’s why it is so so sooo important that you teach your children that it is never okay for anyone to ask them to touch someone else’s private parts, nor should anyone ever touch their private parts. Make sure to say it as if it’s the fact of all facts (because it so is) – don’t use any words that give the impression you’re only suggesting this is true. Use solid “never” “do not” words.
4. Bad Touch May Feel Good or Tickle
This is something that just breaks my heart. Often children who are abused feel conflicted and confused about the nature of the abuse they’re enduring. We all know that sexual acts aren’t meant to feel bad, they’re meant to feel good. So, when a child is abused, they often have a hard time making sense of this in their minds. If this is bad, why is my body reacting this way? Why doesn’t it feel bad? So, we have to inform our children that “bad/unsafe touch” doesn’t always mean that it will feel bad. Bad touch can tickle or feel good, but that doesn’t mean it is good. Perhaps, rather than using the term “bad touch,” it might be better to use different terms, like “secret touch,” “unsafe touch”, or if the child is older, “inappropriate touch,” etc.
5. Body Secrets are Never Okay
One of the main tactics abusers use with children is getting them to believe that they need to keep what their abuser is doing a secret. They may say, “Please don’t tell anyone about what we’re doing or else they may not let us play anymore okay?” Or it may be done in a threatening manner, “If you tell anyone about what we did you’ll never see your family again.” Whatever the case may be, teach your children that body secrets, regardless what they’re told by this person, is never okay. That they can always come and talk with mama or papa about what someone has done or said to them, regardless.
I personally would also let the child know to not tell the abuser that they’re going to tell anyone. I would be afraid that this could cause abusers to panic or get violent. Rather, if the abuse has already taken place, be agreeable with the abuser and say they won’t tell, but go home and tell every single thing – tell, tell, tell until someone believes them.
6. How to Get Out of Bad Situations
Often times children are intimidated by adults or older children and therefore they have a hard time saying, “no.” This is natural for most children, but we have to reinforce the concept in our children’s minds that they can say “no.” They can even claim they have to go to the bathroom to get out of an isolated situation, and instead they can go get immediate help. We should also be teaching our children that they can tell someone to “stop,” that they can say “what you’re doing is making me upset/uncomfortable/feel bad.” We must supply them with the words and phrases they can use in time of need.
7. Teach Code Words
I think this is a very important, and often overlooked strategy that we need to implement as parents. Code words give them words they can use when they feel uncomfortable/they want to be picked up/leave. It gives them a way to secretly express that something is wrong.
For instance, say a child’s being abused by a family friend and your family goes over for a holiday. If your child feels uncomfortable around that person they can use the code words you’ve taught to say what they’re feeling. It gives you an understanding that something isn’t right and you can remove your child from the situation and talk privately.
8. They’ll Never Be In Trouble for Sharing Body Secrets
This is a message we need to drill into our children’s minds – you will never be in trouble for sharing any body secrets with me. I’m a safe place for you to come with anything. I will listen to you, I will hear you and I will believe you. By reassuring our children long before an instance happens, you’ve helped to make them confident that you’re a safe place.
I’d like to add – we can’t merely use words, we have to use our actions and your every day responses to prove we’re a safe place. If they come to you and share that they stole a piece of candy from the store, don’t freak out and go nuts. If something like stealing a candy bar causes you to blow the roof, then what will a secret like sexual abuse cause you to do? Even if your child asks you a question and it freaks you out, stay calm – do not freak out.
When your child comes to you with something upsetting, disappointing or shocking, your responses/reactions send your children a message. If you overreact, don’t give the benefit of the doubt, are quick to anger, etc. your child will realize that you’re not the safest place to share their secrets after all.
So, I encourage you today, live your life in a way that shows your children that you’re a safe place. This isn’t easy, it takes work (I’m still working on it and my son’s not even 2 years old yet). We can tell them til we’re blue in the face that we’re a safe place, but if we don’t show that in our every day, our words will stand no chance.
9. Pictures of Their or Others Body is Not Okay
With technology and the internet as vast as they are these days, many pedophiles and abusers utilize these mediums. We can’t overlook the reality that there’s a big market out there today for inappropriate photos of children. To combat this, we have to let our children know that no one should ever ask or be able to take photos of their private parts or of them naked. Instill in them that this is never okay, and to always tell mama and papa if this happens.
10. Listen to Their Gut Feelings
Often time children have an instinctive feeling that what is taking place is not okay. But due to fear, or confusion, they often stay quiet and don’t share what’s being done against them. So, let your children know that if they feel something is not okay, then odds are it isn’t okay. So, rather than keeping a secret to themselves, they can come to you. You’ll then be able to help them figure out whether or not something that happened was appropriate or not.
11. They are Never Responsible for What Happened
Abusers often use shame tactics to make children feel responsible for what’s happening. Many survivors of sexual abuse admit the reason they never shared what happened was due to guilt and shame. We combat this by teaching children that inappropriate things that happen to them are never their fault. They do not ask for it, they did not cause it, they are not responsible.
12. Regardless Who it is, Adult or Child, The Rules Apply to Everyone
Often times adults will overlook potential abusive situations because the person they’re questioning is someone they know and respect/love. As adults we have our biases, but this is never okay. Likewise, our children can be bias and assume that an older child can’t be an abuser, too. This is false, and we have to ensure our children understand that. An abuser can be an adult and it can be another child. So, we must express to them that if something is inappropriate/bad/not okay, it doesn’t matter who is doing it. Bad touch is bad touch, regardless who it comes from.
Body Safety Education Resources
Here are great resources to help you learn and reinforce this message:
In the End…
My heart truly does break at the thought of this epidemic. Simply writing these last three posts has just ate away at my heart. To think that there are children all around us who are enduring the hell of sexual abuse. Many times feeling alone, feeling as if they have no one to talk or turn to. So my prayer is that parents everywhere would inform themselves and empower their children through body safety education. It’s just the most effective way to help prevent sexual abuse and combat the ridiculous statistics present today.
Please share this series with those who are close to you and even those who are not. By simply becoming informed people may come to realize situations within their reach that are potentially abusive. Truly, this message and this information can save lives. Be a part of the change!
In All Honesty,