Since the Penn State child abuse cover up has been exposed and the public is responding for the most part with outrage that Jerry Sandusky was able to abuse so many children and many adults knew and turned a blind eye, we have been getting calls and emails from many parents asking: “What do I tell my child to keep them safe?” “How can I Keep my child Safe?” “Tell me what to do?” We wrote this blog in the hope that we can answer those questions.
First and foremost is to continue to be outraged over adults not protecting children. It is that energy which will make many parents take proactive steps toward teaching their children personal safety and being more aware and educated as to how to recognize the dangers – noting that 90% of the time a child is harmed it is by someone you/they know and trust. But in front of your children remain calm as one of the reasons they don’t want to talk to you (their parents) about questions they might have or things they are hearing about is because they think you are going to overreact.
So for starters we ask that you keep a poker face when talking and listening to your children. This is great technique to use with children of all ages. And as you read through the suggestions below – please note – these are not band aid fixes in response to the Penn State tragedy – these are skills, language, and concepts to integrate into your everyday parenting. They are just as important for our toddlers as for our teens.
10 things every parent should tell and talk to their children about – starting as soon as they begin to speak, but developmentally around 3 years of age
1. From a young age instill in your children that their bodies are special and belongs to them. (This can relate to everything from taking care of our bodies nutritionally, keeping us physically healthy, as well as beginning the conversation about private parts and safe and unsafe touching.)
2. Children should know and use proper names for body parts. An elbow is an elbow and a penis is a penis. We as adults need to be comfortable ourselves otherwise we are passing down the message that it is “taboo” to talk about our private parts. Note: if they ever have to report abuse, saying Uncle Joe touched my “cookie” will make it more difficult to understand what occurred.
3. Discuss with children how various touches make them feel. Note the difference between the feelings of a safe touch – comfortable, warm, cozy, special, loved and the feelings of an unsafe touch – awkward, nervous, scary, confusing, sad, and mad, etc. Directly say to children that if you receive a touch – even from someone you love, and you are confused by it – then you can always report it to another adult to help you understand if it was a safe touch or an unsafe touch. This is called reporting. (Similar to reporting bullying.)
4. Discuss the difference between tattling and reporting: Tattling is when you tell on someone just to get them in trouble. Reporting is when you talk to a trusted adult because of your safety and/or the safety of others.
5. Empower your children that their bodies belong to them. This means that if they do not feel like giving someone a hug (visiting relative for example) – they do not need to be rude – but can politely say no thank you. Forcing a child to hug or kiss someone is sending the subliminal message that the feelings of the adult are more important than respecting the child’s body boundaries.
6. Teach children their bodies are special and they have the RIGHT to keep them safe. (Read our book My Body is Special and Belongs to Me! we wrote this book as the conversation every parent wants to have with their child and is not sure how to start or how to answer the questions their child may ask (there is a great parent section too) www.kidsafefoundation.org/products
7. Teach children their privates are private and so are everyone else’s and that’s why we call them “private parts.” No one should be looking, touching, taking a picture of yours and they shouldn’t be looking, touching, anyone else’s. (Starting this message young leads to better choices regarding issues of sexting among preteens and teens and other life choices.)
8. Discuss good and bad secrets with your child, because a child who keeps secrets is a predators dream. Teach your children: A Good Secret has a time limit (the person telling you to keep the secret wants you to tell eventually). An example: A parent and child shop for a gift for a sibling. Parents ask child not to tell until the birthday. Feelings associated with this good secret are similar to the feelings a child would have with a safe touch – special, excited, proud, happy. A Bad secret has no time limit, the person might have directly asked the child to keep the secret, or has threatened or bribed the child into silence, and to the child this is a secret with no end in sight. Feelings associated with a bad secret are similar to the feelings of an unsafe touch – scared, uncomfortable, afraid to tell, awkward, confused, alone, shame, and fear of getting into trouble. Teach your children that if they ever have anything on their mind that gives them those types of feelings then they always know they can come to you and tell (report) you anything.
9. Remind your children regularly and often that you are available to listen to them – noting that whatever they have to say – no matter how bad it might seem to them – you will be able to handle it and get any help that is needed. (This is important for sexual abuse, bullying, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, etc.). Also note to children of all ages, that if they ever receive an unsafe touch of any sort it is NEVER their fault. (The fault belongs to the adult not the child)