How to Talk to Young Children About Body Safety
Myth: Teaching my children about “stranger danger” is the best way to keep them safe from sexual predators.
Fact: In the vast majority of sexual abuse cases, the offender was known (and very often trusted by) the victim’s family. Sexual predators invest incredible amounts of energy into creating a persona of a trustworthy person in order to have access to children. Abductions and abuse by strangers represent a very small percentage of sexual abuse in children.
Myth: I should teach my kids about “good touching” and “bad touching.”
Fact: Using the terms “good” and “bad” requires the children to make a moral decision, which can be very conflicting as even inappropriate touching might not feel “bad” to the child. The use of the term “bad touching” can also imply guilt to the child, and make him feel ashamed to tell about what happened. A better approach is to talk about “safe” and “not safe” touching. You can use the example that no one should touch the child in any area covered by their bathing suit. The conversation shouldn’t only be about touching, however: you should also educate your children about indecent exposure and exposure to pornography. You can use the same bathing suit example: “No one should touch you anywhere your bathing suit covers. No one should ask you to touch them somewhere that their bathing suit covers. No one should show you a part of their or someone else’s bodies that their bathing suit covers.”
It is important to remember that inappropriate touching can happen between children, not just between a child and an adult. Do not be exclusionary in your safety talk: don’t talk only about men or adults, but stress that no one should do these things with them.
Myth: I can’t talk to my young child about sexual abuse because I’m not ready for them to know about sex.
Fact: You can, and should, talk to young children in an age-appropriate manner. You can teach them personal safety without discussing the birds and the bees.
As parents, we often say that “we’ve had the talk” in a way that implies this is a one-time conversation that we can check off of our to-do list. These types of safety conversations need to be ongoing, especially for younger children who need repetition in order to learn. How often do you remind your child to look both ways before they cross the street? This type of safety is just as important.
Myth: I should tell my children to come to me if someone is hurting them.
Fact: While this should be an important part of your safety talk, it should not be the only part. It is important to recognize that your children may not always feel comfortable telling you about things that are bothering them. Also, sexual offenders will frequently threaten children not to tell their parents about the abuse. To ensure greater safety, encourage your children to name five trusted adults they could tell, and instruct them to continue to tell until someone helps them.
This article focused on teaching children personal safety. The largest impact, however, will be for us as adults to have the most powerful tools in protecting them. We encourage you to attend a “Darkness 2 Light: Stewards of Children” presentation to learn the steps to protecting children from sexual abuse.