How To Talk to Your Child About Safe & Unsafe Touch

With an increasing rate of news related to sexual abuse and harassment cases being commonly aired on social media, voiced by family members and family friends, and showcased on headliners of today – it is nearly inevitable that your child will come across “trigger” words such as ‘rape, ‘ sexual abuse,’ and ‘molestation’

Apart from the parental wish to keep your child from hearing sensitive information from the wrong sources, it is essential to address this subject in an age-appropriate manner, with a suitable setting and a positive line of action from the child’s primary caregivers. Also, considering the sensitivity of the topic, it may be difficult for some parents and caregivers to know ‘where to start’ or ‘how to talk to children’ about what sexual abuse means. In light of this, our Pedagogy team has researched & compiled a few simple steps about how parents and guardians can broach this topic with their child.

STEP 1: STARTING THE CONVERSATION:

Understand the issue in its entirety first. Children of BOTH genders are prone to abuse. If you as a parent find it uncomfortable to talk to your child, you may always involve a trusted family member, physician, counsellor or the child’s teacher.

  • WHEN? – There is no ‘right time’ to talk about it, children as young as 3 year olds are able to make connections with their understanding and learning. But the depth and level of the information shared with the child is recommended to be within age-appropriate boundaries.
  • HOW? – Do not make a ‘big deal’ or display anxiety about this topic to the child, even though we may feel internally nervous about it ourselves. Keep it simple, and casually initiate an age-appropriate conversation during playtime, bath time, or over dinner. Reinforce the guidelines from time to time and reassure them that you are their protector, and parents always want to keep their child safe.
  • WHAT? – Teach your child the real names of the body parts, including their private parts. By ‘baby talking’ and giving names they understand the context differently. Make your child aware of what basic scenarios/ actions they should report to you immediately and at any point of time
  • WHO? – *This refers to ‘who could be the possible instigators of wrongful actions’ and how to help your child comprehend this with a state of preparedness and empowerment in line with children’s ‘Right to be Safe’ and ‘Right to be Protected.’ This should be done without inciting fears or phobias.

STEP 2: EXPLAINING SAFE AND UNSAFE TOUCH

Break down concepts to the child’s level of understanding and explain it in your own creative, personable way. Do not make it a ‘taboo’ topic or something that is driven with fear. You could:

  • Show your child the video on Safe and Unsafe Touch, and watch it together with him/her. It is available on our YouTube channel ( viverointenational ). But before watching it as a family, we advise parents to privately view the content prior, and assess the current readiness of your child – this will prepare you to face ensuing questions and doubts your child may present you with. It can be shown more than once to help reinforce the conceptual learning.
  • Use related child-preparedness worksheets (which are readily available on the internet) that introduce young children to the different types of touching, voicing out, identifying body parts, avoiding secrets that make you feel badly, etc.
  • Include story books like:
  1. ‘Some Parts Are Not for Sharing’ – Julie Federico
  2. ‘I said No!’ – Zack King
  3. ‘Do You Have a Secret?’ – Jennifer Moore-Mallinos…and other such books as part of your child’s frequent reading time with parents.

STEP 3: SETTING UP AN ACTION PLAN

Apart from helping your child understand their safety, it is equally important to prepare them with knowing what to do if they are a victim or an offender (not intentionally, but perhaps by being curiously playful).

  • Teach your child rules to be followed, when with or around a stranger. It is not always necessary to be ‘polite’ and ‘well mannered’ around strangers. Sometimes, young children require opportunities to showcase rudeness towards strangers who make them feel uncomfortable, as this is one way they can gain confidence in respecting their Personal-Social-Emotional space. However, they should be encouraged to share the reasoning with parents, behind why they were impolite.
  • Involve your child to create a ‘safety circle’ consisting of three-five adults that your child can trust in case he/ she feels worried, scared or uncomfortable. Ensure that your child is extremely comfortable with the adults in the safety circle (one of them could be your child’s teacher too). Display it prominently and often revisit it with your child.
  • Encourage your child to immediately share with you if someone has threatened them or asked to keep something a secret. *Something to keep in mind here: Many times a child will prefer to tell something to just one parent and may refuse to or feel uncomfortable in confiding in both parents equally. In such a case it is important to; 1) resist personal sensitivity on this matter, 2) not force the child to tell you the same secrets that he/she may tell the other parent, and 3) feel grateful that your child is at least confiding in one parent – as opposed to none at all!

STEP 4: BEING APPROACHABLE

Keep all channels of communication open at home to enable an approachable environment for your child.

  • Instead of shooing the child away listen patiently and address the given concern. If you are not ready for the conversation, you may tell him/her that you would find out and get back to them later.
  • Building strong bonds of trust between yourself and your child is critical. The goal is for your child to ALWAYS feel safe in trusting YOU as his/her parents and feel at liberty to approach you with smaller incidents too – which lead up to him/ her feeling ‘safe and comfortable’ enough to confide bigger secrets in you.

An important part of training children on this sensitive topic is dealing with possible past pain and wrongful experiences they may be carrying with them. Patiently enable children to move through it, encouraging them to express the situation and their feelings, thoughts and insecurities. Highlight constant reinforcement that it is NOT the child’s fault. Reassure them of their safety and comfort them with how you will look out for them now and ensure that nothing like this will be repeated.