Child abuse is a rising epidemic in our country. According to Childhelp.org, a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds. Treatment for sexual abuse, in particular, is a very delicate and tricky process. It requires a highly trained professional in order to achieve optimum healing from such a horrible experience. Therefore, prevention must be a number one priority and there is no better place to begin than in the home.
Prevention starts at home. While some school districts offer certified trainings on Good Touch/Bad Touch to their students that are highly educational, informative, and helpful, the conversation also needs to occur in the home for maximum effectiveness. Unfortunately, teaching your child about “stranger danger” may not be enough. A large percentage of children are sexually abused by someone they know. Therefore, parents must take the conversation a few steps further.
Talking about safe touch and private parts can be awkward and uncomfortable for both children and their parents but there are ways to have this talk using age appropriate language so that children develop a solid understanding of safe touch as well as feel comfortable talking about it. If the topic of private parts and safe touch is approached with too much apprehension, uneasiness or embarrassment, then that is how a child will feel about it as well. The bible tells us that we were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). We need not feel embarrassed about our bodies but at the same time we must protect our bodies. Our children need to feel that same sense of sanctity and safety of their bodies as well.
The best way to start this extremely important conversation is with something that is familiar yet relatable. All children are familiar with rules and boundaries to keep them physically safe. Mom and Dad must stop the car when the traffic light turns red or when they reach a stop sign. Children are supposed to look both ways before crossing the street and wear helmets while riding their bikes. These are rules that keep us all safe. It helps to give children examples of different situations and ask them whether they think a certain situation is safe or unsafe. For example, is running through a crowded hallway at school safe or unsafe? Is it safe or unsafe not to tell your parents if you are leaving the house to go next door and see your friend? There are also rules about safe touch vs. unsafe touch.
While the language can vary, it is important to use words that are age appropriate for your children. To summarize, however, safe touch is touch that makes one feel good and safe on the inside and mostly comes from people that we love and trust while unsafe touch makes one feel bad and unsafe on the inside. However, it gets a bit complicated because bad touch can occur from someone that we love and trust. The most important connection to make is how a touch makes us feel. Always give your child examples and ask them for any examples they can come up with. A safe touch is when mommy hugs and kisses you good night. That makes you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. A safe touch is when daddy holds you in his lap while he reads you a story. Safe touches come from the doctor during a doctor visit for a tummy ache or check-up. Safe touches come from mommy or daddy when they are giving baby sister or brother a bath or changing a diaper to keep them clean and healthy. Safe touches even come as hugs and pats on the back from best friends. However, if a touch ever begins to feel uncomfortable, make sure you empower your child to say “No,” “Please Stop,” or even to walk or run away if needed. For example, tickling can often start out as fun but can be taken too far. If it feels bad to the child, then it needs to stop. While tickling is fun and often harmless, it is also a good teaching tool for empowering children to say no when it gets too rough.
One of the best and most widely used teaching tools about private parts and safe touch is what gets covered when children wear a bathing suit. Bathing suits cover the parts of our bodies that are meant to be private and are not for others to touch. The only exceptions would be for cleanliness and particular doctors’ visits or medical procedures. Educate your child about their private parts and that boys and girls have some private parts that are the same and some that are different. Boys have penises while girls have vaginas and breasts. Both boys and girls have bottoms. Using the real words in addition to whatever nicknames you choose for your body parts is also helpful.
Secrecy is almost always involved with unsafe touches. Teach your children about sharing secrets that make them feel uncomfortable to keep. If someone touches you or asks you to touch them and then tells you to keep it a secret, that is an unsafe touch. However, this can get tricky. Younger children may not understand the difference between keeping something private, such as their private parts, and keeping a secret. Be sure to clarify that just because we keep certain parts of our bodies private, that doesn’t mean that what happens to those body parts should always be kept private. We may cover our private parts but we should never cover up if our private parts of unsafely touched.
Finally, children need to be encouraged and empowered to say “NO” and to run away if they are ever touched or threatened in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. A child should never stay in a situation in which they feel unsafe or unprotected. They should be taught to seek out a safe adult immediately and to know without a doubt which adults are safe to talk to. By the end of this conversation (or series of conversations as the case may be), your children should have a list of the top 3-5 safe adults that they can speak to as well as a way to contact them. This list needs to be easily accessible to kids and reviewed regularly.
1. Never go anywhere alone. Always take a buddy with you. There is safety in numbers.
2. Always tell a safe adult where you are going and who you are with. The more people who know where you are, the harder it is to get lost.
3. Never get into a car with someone without your parent’s permission.
4. Don’t let anyone touch you on your private parts or force you to touch their private parts. Stay Stop immediately and run, don’t walk, to safety.
5. Never go anywhere with a stranger, no matter what they offer you or how nice they might seem. Niceness can be deceiving.
6. Trust your instincts. It’s okay to be suspicious of people who are being too nice if it feels wrong or uncomfortable to you.
7. If someone threatens you, yell Stop or No immediately. Yelling is a great way to get attention in an unsafe situation. This is one of the few times that it’s okay to make a scene.
8. Don’t keep a secret that feels wrong to keep. Go to a safe adult instead.
9. Trust your feelings!! If it feels wrong, get away!
Storybooks are a great tool for teaching children about safe touch, especially early elementary and preschool aged children. Here are a few great books that parents can use to educate their children about safe touch and keeping themselves safe. Many more can also be found.
• “My Body Belongs to Me” by Jill Starishevsky
• “The Right to Touch” by Sandra Klevin
• “I Said No! A kid-to-kid guide to keeping your private parts private.” By Zack and Kimberly King
• “My Body is Private” by Linda Girard
• “Your Body Belongs to You” by Cornelia Maude Spelman
• “It’s my Body” by Lory Britain
The internet can be equally helpful and terrifying at the same time. Here are a few websites that you might find more helpful than terrifying.
• http://www.a4pt.org– Association for Play Therapy
by Erin Pridgen, M.S., LPC, Registered Play Therapist
Staff Therapist at The Summit Counseling Center