Body safety for children encompasses many things, but let’s discuss how we can effectively have conversations with our children about “safe” and “unsafe” touch/behavior.
As I sit here and begin to write this article about body safety, I am filled with many emotions. It concerns me as a mother that I need to have these conversations with my children, but I know how important it is. My top priority is to keep my children safe. My children are entering an age now where they understand more about the world. They are curious and have begun asking questions.
It’s time that I have more conversations with them about keeping their body safe and finding their voice.
I recently asked some questions to our readers about having conversations with their children about body safety.
Some of the feedback I received listed the ages of children when parents started conversations about body safety. Most parents reported that they began discussing these things when children were around three years old. While it makes sense to begin conversations with children who are more verbal, it got me thinking, that as parents, we can do more for our children who don’t yet speak.
I also had an alarming amount of mothers share that they are the ones who have the safety conversations, not the fathers. Some also shared that they have safety conversations yearly instead of routinely. This encouraged me to share some findings about how to effectively have body safety talks with our children.
WE can be their voice.
When we think about what body safety means, many of us may think it’s about keeping ourselves safe, wearing seatbelts, helmets when riding bikes, eating nutritious foods.
All of those are necessary, but what about “safe” and “unsafe” touch?
If our children are not yet verbal, it is up to us as the caregiver to be our children’s voice. Saying no to unwanted touch or hugs from others, allowing someone to change a diaper, holding a crying baby for far too long before handing the baby back to the parent are all examples of times when children need us to speak up for them. There are many examples of ways that parents and caregivers can be a strong voice for their children, to speak up and advocate for their children.
It’s up to us as parents to stand firm and strong.
For children that are able to communicate, many experts in child development and health and safety positions share that conversations about body safety should begin as early as possible and become a routine conversation in day-to-day life. These hard but necessary conversations set a framework for self-esteem and confidence in the child.
Below are some examples of how to have an effective conversation about body safety from http://Kidsfirstinc.org. Kids First Inc. is an accredited Child Advocacy Center.
Discuss with your children the following:
- “Safe” and “unsafe” touching. Your child should know that they do not have to let anyone kiss or hug them if they do not want it, even grandparents. Body parts covered by bathing suits should not be touched.
- Use age-appropriate wording. Speak to your child in a way that will make sense to them. Read books or have short but concise conversations or reminders. Also, make it a point to also include that they should not be shown graphics or videos that show body parts that should be covered by bathing suits.
- Using the bathing suit rule can be an easy way for children to understand what parts of the body should be kept covered and private.
- Teach the difference between healthy and unhealthy secrets. A secret birthday party is a healthy secret. Secret touching is NOT.
- Teach proper terminology for body parts. Creating false names for private parts can become confusing for children and adults if your child ever had to share an unhealthy secret.
- Have your children name five people they could talk to if someone is being unsafe with them. Remind them of these people often.
- Revisit this safety talk often. Encourage your child’s other parent to also have these safety talks with you and the child.
I’d like to add that if your child is at potty training age, be conscious about who is taking your child to the bathroom. Do you feel comfortable with this person helping your child? Who gives your children baths? Who spends the most time with your children. Do you or your child feel comfortable around them? These are all good questions to think about. If you ever feel uncomfortable, try to listen to your instincts. Be sure to listen to your children if they ever come to you and share their feelings about someone.
Using a code word can be useful if you are away from your child. My parents used a code word with my sister and I growing up. The code word our family used was put in place in case someone else claimed they were asked to pick us up from school or a friend’s house. If they didn’t know the code word, we said NO. As parents our goal is to raise respectful children, but teaching them to say NO when appropriate is a good thing. It’s also a good idea to know who the adults are that your children are spending most time with. Write down names and phone numbers. Also, have conversations about strangers and what the differences are between being friendly and overstepping boundaries.
Listen to your child. If they ever tell you or seem uncomfortable around someone please do your best to find out more.
Educate yourselves as adults.
http://Kidsfirstinc.org, offers seminars on preventing child sexual abuse. They also have a FAQ page that includes truths and myths related to body safety discussions.
Or visit your local library and ask your librarians to help you find books about this topic too.
Here is a list of books for children and young adults to read along with a parent or caregiver. Books can be a great resource to begin conversations and further the understanding of body safety with your children.
Remember, body safety encompasses more than just “safe” and “unsafe” touching. It’s also about physical/mental abuse, nutrition, and overall well-being of the child.
New Mexico also has many Child Advocacy Centers. If you are in need of resources or need to report a suspected child abuse situation follow this link http://NMCSAP.org to their website. There are many phone numbers and emails for you to reach help.
The phone number for New Mexico Children’s Alliance (NMCA) in Albuquerque is 505-883-8020.
I’d like to share a bit of my heart with all of you. My hopes in writing this article isn’t to add heaviness to your hearts and homes, but to share a light and a strength that we all need in our lives right now. Now more than ever, we as parents, we are being called to have an extraordinary amount of strength. A strength that I am so proud to share with all of you. If we can do one thing as parents, let’s raise our voices for our children.
Scream and yell louder than ever on their behalf. Be their VOICE. Be their STRENGTH. Show them they are mighty and tough. And together we can raise them STRONG.
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