Talking to your children about body safety is an important although intimidating issue. There is no perfect age to talk with your children about being safe; it should be an ongoing dialogue throughout their lifetime. Avoid falling back on the old warning of "stranger danger"; unfortunately all too often those who perpetrate children do so because they have access to the child and the child feels they "know" them. Engage your children to talk about keeping themselves safe, show that you are available to talk with them and be aware to what they might be telling you without talking. These tips are not meant to be the complete answer but are some general guidelines for speaking with your child if you feel you might have reason to be concerned about their safety.
- DO talk with your child at a quiet time, without distractions so that you have their attention.
- DO talk about the parts of the body that are considered "private" and which are not private--using whatever language is commonly used in your home.
- DO talk about who CAN touch their private parts i.e.: A Doctor as part of an exam, parents and/or caregivers who would be assisting with toileting or bathing. It is appropriate to distinguish between those normal activities as opposed to contact with their private areas not in the context of assisting with toileting or cleaning.
- DO talk about that it is not ok for anyone else to touch their private parts. Inquire in an open manner whether anyone else has touched them and who that is.
- DO talk about what your child should do if someone touches them--who they should tell, help them identify who they can go to.
- DO pay attention to changes in your child's sleeping, eating or toileting habits as they can sometimes be indicators.
- DO show support for whatever your child tells you, try not to show that you are upset as this will impact their comfort level in being honest about the topic.
- DO NOT ask direct questions--such as "Has Uncle Bob ever touched you?" Inquire in general about different people that your child is in contact with.
- DO NOT use dolls or stuffed animals to demonstrate on--this can invite "magical thinking" into the scenario as children commonly engage in pretend play with these toys.
If your child does disclose something that is concerning--avoid the temptation to ask direct or leading questions. Bring this information to the attention of the appropriate authorities: the Division for Children Youth and Families (1-800-894-5533) and/or your local police department. Ask for help, get support for yourself, and let your child know that you are proud of them for talking to you. For more information, check out this article on talking to your child about body safety. Please feel free to contact the Child Advocacy Center of Rockingham County with further questions.