Teach your kids to be safe without scaring them
There is nothing more charming and delightful than a friendly and open toddler who greets everyone with a cherubic smile. As parents, we encourage our children to be polite, friendly, and welcoming. But how do we balance that with caution? In this day and age, the danger is not always about strangers or the obviously shady character hanging out at the park.
Unfortunately, the bad guys and those who prey on kids lurk everywhere. They may even be part of your tight circle.
So how do we navigate this scary path without making our children fearful of everybody? We need to foster a healthy sense of self, the ability to discern what is right from what is wrong and do all this without destroying your child’s openness and ability to make friends. It’s a tall order but it can be done with a bit of awareness and help from those in the know.
TIME TO TALK
Experts recommend you should begin speaking to children about their safety as soon as they can understand language – so from around two or three, depending on your child’s verbal development.
And it’s not only “stranger danger” children need to be taught. Most [sexual abuse] perpetrators are known to the child and/or family. It is therefore important to rather teach children about general safety.
It is necessary to teach boys and girls equally. Boys are as open to abuse as girls, sometimes even more.
The best foundation for teaching children to protect themselves from sexual and other forms of abuse is to build strong communication channels from a young age, which will allow your child to share openly with you about all or most of his experiences as he grows up. Make discussions about sexual abuse part of an ongoing conversation, but make sure the conversation is always age-appropriate and in language that the child understands.
We recommend teaching children to be cautious of strangers by telling them to only speak to people they don’t know when Mommy, Daddy, or the person taking care of them is also present. Tell him not to talk to anyone he doesn’t know who approaches him, even if there are other children or animals with the person. This is common trick perpetrators use
Children should also be clearly told that they should never go off with someone they do not know, or with someone, they know but who makes them feel uncomfortable. Kids must be taught they are allowed to say ‘no’ to an adult, or to shout out ‘no’ in order to attract attention.
NO TO SECRET TOUCHING
Teaching children about all body parts is an essential part of protecting against sexual abuse. Each week focus on a particular body part, for example, the elbow, by pointing it out, saying the word out loud, using it in a fun sentence, and talking about the function of the elbow. The private body parts must be included in this game and your child must be taught that it is private and is therefore always covered when outside in public and that no one else is allowed to look at it or touch it. This can easily be done during bath time
And try to always call private parts by their correct names: vagina or penis. Not only will this help make you feel less awkward when talking about sex in the future, but it will also help your child be comfortable naming and talking about his penis or her vagina.
Once your child is familiar with all his body parts, it’s time to talk about touching. We recommend teaching about the different types of touching in stages. Start with good touching (hugging, holding hands, high fives), and then move on to bad or angry touching (hitting, biting, pinching). It can be helpful to cut out pictures from magazines and make collages for each type of touching as you go along.
Then move on to secret touching. Get a picture of a girl and a boy in a bathing suit and show your child that secret touching is when anyone touches you in a place that is covered by the bathing suit. It is important to make the differentiation between touching private parts for washing and for medical reasons.
Importantly, you need to tell your child to tell you, a teacher or another trusted adult straight away if there has been anger or secret touching. Reiterate that angry and secret touching is wrong and that they must never keep this secret from you – that is a ‘bad secret’. “You need to also make it very clear that secret touching is never their fault and they will never be in trouble if they tell you about it.”
TEACH, DON’T FRIGHTEN
There can be a fine line between teaching your child about safety and making him fearful that every adult is out to hurt him. The child must not get the idea that the world is dangerous. You need to create a support base and safety net without instilling fear that everyone is dangerous.
Start by never using the term “stranger danger” when talking to your child, as this could create the impression that all strangers are dangerous. Rather, speak about child ‘safety’ in general. Make sure she knows that most adults are good people who will not harm children. This can be reinforced through appropriate storytelling and examples of people whom they know.
While it is necessary to talk about safety often and where appropriate, be careful not to talk about it incessantly. Also tell her he doesn’t have to be scared of every adult, just cautious. And if he’s not sure, to always ask Mommy or Daddy.