“Hey kiddo, let’s talk about body safety.” I’ve said these words so many times now, I know what’s coming. “Do you remember the body safety rules?” Finally she says, “Yes! It’s like if a mama wolf is driving in a car and she wears her seatbelt, then she is being body safe.”
Eventually we move past wolves in cars and get back to real body safety: a discussion of private parts, personal boundaries, and the value of her body. Though it was uncomfortable at first, I know the importance of these chats and want to lay a foundation for honest communication without pushing her past her own readiness.
According to Darkness to Light one in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18, most of them by people they know and trust. That means our responsibility to our children goes far beyond “stranger danger.”
Yet, it can be scary broaching these difficult subjects. You don’t want to overwhelm them with information they are not ready for, but you want them to have the tools and confidence to feel safe whatever comes their way. Leaving this burden to the school systems, a strategically placed book, or the hope they will just “know” puts them at great risk. We as parents are their first line of defense and their greatest influence. So regardless of their age, body safety talks (and frankly, all the awkward talks) need to start at home. These discussions will probably produce some comedy gold, so here are some pointers to help keep us on track.
Your First “The Talk” Without the “S” Word
The beautiful thing about talking body safety with a young child is you probably won’t even have to mention sex! Especially for young children, this would be too much too soon. Teaching a child body safety is about giving him or her the ability to set boundaries for their bodies and protect their innocence. Only give what he or she needs for that current stage. Answer questions honestly, but don’t give more than you feel they are ready for. You know your children best!
Give Them the Right Tools
It took me three years to finally work up the nerve to teach my daughter the medically correct terms for vagina and penis (she called the latter a “hot dog,” complete with random New York accent.) You have to lay a foundation for your child to start building his or her boundaries. Though the thought of them sharing their new vocabulary with their Sunday school teacher makes you blush, it’s important for kids to know the correct terminology for their body parts. The first time my oldest asked what to call hers, I freaked out, my mind running through all the colloquialisms (why do I know all of these!?!) and settled on peepee. Later, this became confusing when trying to potty train, so in the spirit of removing shame from these talks, I taught her to call it a vagina. (You should have seen the look on my husband’s face the first time she yelled, “Bagina!” in front of him. If nothing else, the giggles for me made it worthwhile.)
Make a Short, Easy List of “Rules”
There are many resources to help you; find one that suits your needs. The NSPCC website uses an acronym for PANTS to help you and your child remember some simple rules. There is also a song and video starring “Pantasaurus” that’s cute and catchy (though you and your children are guaranteed to giggle the whole time — and then wonder why only the kids wear pants.) The guidelines, though, are on point. Repetition and simplicity are key.
Here’s a quick outline of our chats for reference:
- Naked is private. We aren’t naked in front of others. If someone else asks you to be naked or shows you their naked parts, say “NO!” — tell mom and dad. ( I always emphasize that there are exceptions to this rule: She can of course look at and touch her own body; it is hers alone. Mommy and daddy can see her naked, help her bathe, or use the restroom, etc. The doctor can also look at her privates when she, and mom or dad say it’s okay.)
- If it makes you feel yucky, say NO and leave. If someone wants you to say or do something that feels wrong, say NO and find mom or dad. Even if it’s another adult.
- Secrets are not for keeping. She will never get in trouble for telling a secret. I’ve heard it put this way, “We don’t have secrets, we have surprises.” Secrets are things that can hurt; surprises are things we simply wait to tell so everyone can have fun. Either way, your child knows they have a safe place to talk, especially about things that may make them feel weird or ashamed.
Modesty not Shame
Modesty and body safety are about assigning value to our bodies, not shame. I want my daughter to know that her body is a valuable thing we protect, not a bad thing we hide. Empowerment is the goal of body safety. Give your children clear boundaries that make them feel they can say “NO” when something or someone feels unsafe. Help them walk in the confidence that comes with knowing you have their back.
What are some effective ways you have taught your own children about body safety?