What information do children need about abuse and safety?
Give children the proper names for body parts. This is the first step towards providing children with the language and the confidence to talk openly about their bodies including their private parts. This will help children be better able to communicate clearly about their bodies if they are hurt or need to tell about a potentially abusive situation. This is critically important because some cases of child sexual abuse go undiscovered because children are embarrassed to tell or don't have the language to do so clearly.
Help children begin to distinguish between okay and not okay touches. Identify okay and not okay touches based upon rules, not based upon how a touch feels. Two important things to remember when talking about touches are 1) not all "okay" touches feel good (e.g. getting a shot) and 2) not all "not okay" touches hurt (e.g. some types of sexual abuse might feel good or seem like a fun game). Therefore, we encourage you to stick with the terms okay and not okay when talking about touches rather than using terms such as good and bad. The discussion should include talking about okay touches to help children appreciate the positive aspects of touch. Include specific definitions of physical and sexual abuse and bullying, including using those words so that children understand what they mean. It helps to list a variety of touches to help children learn to identify okay versus not okay or confusing touches. Be sure to help children understand that not okay touching is always the bigger person’s fault or responsibility and that children who are sexually or physically abused or bullied have not done anything to cause the abuse to happen.
Talk about secrets in order to help children know the difference between surprise secrets that are fun and okay to keep for a little while and secrets that are important to tell.
Talk about who might hurt children. It is important to emphasize that most people do not hurt children, but anyone could. It is important for you to know that those people who do abuse children are generally not strangers. They are most often people who children know quite well including family members, neighbors, coaches, babysitters, etc. It is important to communicate that to children.
Talk with children about sharing their feelings about touches. Include encouraging them to say no to any okay touch that they do not want and praise them for doing so ( see Empowering Children). Help them learn that they have the right to say “NO” to any touch that they do not want or that they think is not okay. Avoid the word should when you are talking about this. If we tell a child they should say no and they don’t for one reason or another, we have just increased their feelings of guilt and responsibility because they did not do what they were told to. Throughout your conversation focus on what they can do, what they have the right to do and what will be helpful—but not what they should do. Help children learn about saying no, getting away and telling.
There is considerable evidence that children are more likely to remember information and skills when the learning is interactive and involves behavior rehearsal. We encourage interactive conversation and the use of simple role-plays. Make up pretend skits or role-plays that encourage children to get up and move around and express themselves as they might in potentially abusive/bullying situations. This provides an opportunity to coach and praise children's "practice" efforts to respond assertively to not okay touches and to tell and keep telling about an abusive situation until they get the help they need. Role-plays should never include actual not okay touches. Rather you might say, "let's make believe a babysitter asked you to touch their private parts; what would you say and do?" or "let's make believe a student on the bus keeps calling you mean names. What would you say and do?" You may use yourself, other people and stuffed animals to help children do the role plays and make them as interactive as possible.
The book, "Let's Talk About Taking Care of You: An Educational Book about Body Safety" provides a fun and interactive way to help parents and other caring adults share this information with children. For more information on the book,
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