As Victim Services Coordinator for The Dolphin House, I meet with families of all varieties including: traditional, divorced, blended, single parents, non-biological caregivers, etc. While these families tend to differ in structure and lifestyles, one general theme can found among my conversations with them.
“How can I keep my child safe?”
Conversations regarding body safety should be open and ongoing. Much different from “the talk” when children reach adolescence. The discussion can start as young as 3 years old coming about naturally and keeping in mind the age and developmental level of your child.
- “My body is my own. I don’t have to be hugged, kissed, or touched by anyone if I am not comfortable.” Teaching your child that it is okay to say no to any kind of touch by anyone. If they tell someone “no” and it still happens they should tell a safe adult.
- Help your child think of at least 3 people, not including you, they could tell if they were abused. Oftentimes, children are worried about telling their parent due to fear of consequence or harm. Perpetrators often threaten children if they tell their parents about their abuse. Encourage them to keep telling people they trust until someone helps them.
- Use age-appropriate wording. You can discuss body safety without discussing sexuality. Teach young children that no one should touch them in any area that their bathing suit covers, and that they should never touch anyone else in these areas or see pictures or movies that show those areas. This includes other children/teens.
- Teach anatomically correct terms for body parts, specifically “penis” and “vagina”. If a child has a nickname for their parts rather than a commonly known term, this can make a disclosure of abuse unclear.
- Eliminate “secrets” from your home. Secrets can be unhealthy and are also used by perpetrators to keep children from talking about the abuse.
- Revisit this safety talk often. Children learn through repetition. How many times do you remind children to look both ways before crossing the street?
Facts & Myths
Myth: Teaching my children about “stranger danger” is the best way to keep them safe from sexual predators.
Fact: Research on child sexual abuse is clear that in the majority of cases, children know the perpetrator. Of these cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of perpetrators are known persons:1 59% were acquaintances, 34% were family members, and 7% were strangers to the victim. Therefore, conversations around body safety and prevention must focus on “strange behavior” rather than “stranger danger.”
Myth: If my child didn’t tell me for 5 years, I must have done a bad job as a parent.
Fact: Oftentimes disclosures are delayed by years. There are numerous reasons as to why:
- Younger children take longer to disclose.
- Fear, shame, or embarrassment.
- Delays in communication, cognition or intellect.
- Gender identity.
Books to Guide Conversations
*Click on the blue text below to see the book on Amazon. Read the description to learn more about the content and suggested age range.
Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.
Body Boundaries Make Me Stronger
Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept
- Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (2000).
- Kids First Inc., Child Abuse Treatment Center, Prevention, Accessed 2023.