It can be daunting to teach kids about body safety, but it is one of the most important lessons parents and caregivers can impart to children. We can help children understand their rights, establish critical boundaries, and empower them to protect themselves from potential harm. By teaching kids about body safety, inappropriate touch, and how to confide in a safe adult, we can help prevent potential abuse and promote the healthy relationships children have with their bodies and others.
What is Body Safety?
Body safety is the vital concept of teaching children how to protect themselves from inappropriate touch or unwelcome behavior from others. It involves teaching children about body autonomy and how to communicate their boundaries to others. This includes teaching children about private parts, appropriate touch, and personal boundaries.
Why is Body Safety Important?
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. By teaching children about body safety, you can help prevent child abuse and create a safe and respectful environment for aa child at every age. Teaching the kids in your life about body safety can also help prevent them from being victims of other types of abuse, such as physical or emotional abuse.
How You Can Teach Body Safety to Kids
Teaching body safety to kids can be a challenging topic for parents and caregivers to broach. However, it is important to start the conversation early and use age-appropriate language and methods. Here are some tips for teaching body safety to kids:
1. Teach Children About Their Bodies and Use Age-Appropriate Language
Children often find it difficult to tell adults about sexual abuse because they don’t know the words to use. Learning correct (anatomical) words for private body parts gives children the vocabulary they need and helps them know it’s okay to talk about those body parts. When teaching your young child different body parts, consider using the correct words for private body parts along with words such as “tummy” and “ears.” You can also explain that the parts of their bodies covered by a swimsuit are their private body parts.
2. Discuss Appropriate Touch
Teach children that there are 3 kinds of touches and how to recognize when someone is touching them inappropriately. This includes teaching children that it is not okay for anyone to touch their private parts or ask them to touch someone else's private parts.
Safe touches. These are touches that keep children safe and are good for them, and that make children feel cared for and important. Safe touches can include hugging, pats on the back, and an arm around the shoulder. Safe touches can also include touches that might hurt, such as removing a splinter or a band-aid. Explain to children that when you or someone else is helping them medically, that it’s taking place to keep them healthy, which makes it a safe touch.
Unsafe touches. These are touches that hurt children’s bodies or feelings (for example, hitting, pushing, pinching, and kicking). Teach children that these kinds of touches are not welcome or okay.
Unwanted touches. These are touches that a child doesn’t want from that person or at that moment. It’s okay for a child to say no to an unwanted touch, even if it’s from a familiar person. Help your children practice saying “no” to any type of touch that makes them feel uncomfortable to help them set boundaries.
3. Teach Children About Personal Boundaries
Teach children about personal boundaries and how to communicate their boundaries to others. This includes teaching children that they have the right to say "no" to any type of touch or behavior that makes them uncomfortable. It also includes teaching children that they have the right to privacy and that it is okay to set boundaries around their personal space and belongings.
4. Encourage Open Communication
Encourage kids to have open communication about body safety. Let your child know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they may have no matter how embarrassing or scary they may be. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment where your child feels comfortable talking about their bodies and any uncomfortable situations they may encounter. An easy way for children to remember what to do is to teach them, “No, Go, Tell.”
- No – Say no or stop loudly so the person can hear you.
- Go – Run away from the individual person and find a nearby safe adult.
- Tell – Tell that safe adult and me what happened so we can help keep you safe.
5. Practice Scenarios
Practice scenarios with your child to help them feel more confident in recognizing and responding to inappropriate behavior. You can role play the “No. Go. and Tell.” steps together. Tell your child you’re going to practice and say, “Pretend like I’m a grown up or big kid and I’m about to touch your private parts” and then reach toward him or her. Coach the child on how to use “No, Go, Tell.” Have children practice telling you about any unsafe touching. Praise them for telling, as telling a safe adult is an important step in this process. Then role play that someone is hurting the child with a hit or a kick and practice “No, Go, Tell” in that scenario as well.
6. Empower Your Child
Empowering your child to take ownership of their body and their personal safety is critical to help them establish and maintain those boundaries throughout their growing experience. Let your child know that they have the right to protect themselves and that you support them in doing so in any situation. This can help build your child's self-confidence and give them the tools they need to stay safe.
Teaching body safety to kids is an important step in preventing child abuse and promoting healthy relationships. By teaching children about their bodies, appropriate touch, personal boundaries, and open communication, we can help empower them to protect themselves from harm. It is important to use age-appropriate language and methods when teaching body safety to kids, and to practice scenarios to help them feel more confident in recognizing and responding to inappropriate behavior.
It's important to note that teaching body safety is not a one-time conversation and should be an ongoing dialogue that evolves as your child grows and develops. As your child gets older, you can discuss more complex topics such as consent, healthy relationships, and online safety.
Creating a safe and supportive environment where your child feels comfortable talking about their bodies and any uncomfortable situations they may encounter will help them as they grow and develop in life. This includes listening to your child without judgment, validating their feelings, and taking action to address any concerns they may have. By starting the conversation early and using age-appropriate language and methods, you can help empower children to protect themselves from harm and promote healthy relationships with their bodies and others. It is never too early or too late to start teaching body safety, so don't wait to start having this important conversation with your child.