“No! Don’t touch me there.”: How to Teach Young Children about Safe Touch
With all the news on the Penn State Scandal where a coach sexually assaulted children and no one stopped him, parents are asking how and what they should teach their children about “Safe Touch”.
There are multiple lessons parents teach children to ensure their safety, such as: handling interactions with strangers, getting help when bullied, maintaining a healthy diet, using the internet in appropriate ways, and opening up to their parents for advice and guidance. Another vital lesson that parents can begin teaching in early childhood and continue throughout adolescence is the difference between safe and unsafe touch. Guidance and conversations regarding safe touch can help children improve safety skills, body awareness, assertiveness, and confidence.
Below are some strategies in teaching children about Safe Touch:
1. Teach your children about their body parts and privacy.
- Help your children name their body parts so that they are aware of and comfortable with their bodies. You can make this a fun activity by tracing your children’s bodies on paper and then labeling and coloring the body parts together.
- Once your children can label their body parts, teach them where their “private parts” are. A simple way to explain “private parts” is to outline
body parts that are covered by a swimsuit. Test your children by asking them to name the parts covered by a swimsuit.
- Explain to your children that we do not share our “private parts” and that if anyone asks to see or touch our “private parts,” we should say “no” and tell a trusted adult. Be sure to differentiate when touching private parts is appropriate (ie. Getting a checkup at the doctor’s, changing a diaper, parents tending to injuries, etc.) and inappropriate.
- Also emphasize to your children that everyone has “private parts” and that they should respect that. They should not ask to see or touch people’s “private parts” either because that could make people feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Teach your children that if their peers ask to see or touch “private parts,” they should say, “Those parts are private, and we should not share” and ask a trusted adult for help.
- The Right Touch is a great book, written by a licensed clinical social worker, that parents can use to start the conversation about privacy and safe/unsafe touch.
2. Explain the concept of consent.
- Emphasize with your children that their body parts belong to them and them alone. Explain that no one should touch them without their permission. You can practice this when friends, relatives, or acquaintances want to hug your children. You can ask your children, “Do you want to give Auntie a hug?” If they say no, resist the temptation to tell them to be polite and give hugs anyway. This can send the message that they have no control over their bodies. Instead, you can offer safe choices: “Would you like to wave ‘goodbye’ or blow a kiss instead?” If well-meaning friends and relatives feel hurt or offended, explain to them, “We are practicing how to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to touch.”
- Tell your children that if they feel uncomfortable, scared, worried, and upset about how someone touches them, they should loudly and firmly say, “No. Do not touch me there” and tell a trusted adult. See below for tips on how to develop a safety plan.
3. Clearly outline what constitutes as safe and unsafe touch.
- Talk with your children to discuss what the difference is between safe and unsafe touch. You can turn this into a game by listing types of touch (ex. Hitting, giving high fives, patting on the back, touching private parts at the doctor’s, a stranger asking to touch private parts, kicking, etc) and asking your children to decide “safe” or “unsafe.”
- Keep your children accountable when you see them engaging in unsafe touch. If they are hitting siblings, for example, explain, “Hitting is unsafe touch. We do not hit.”
4. Encourage and answer questions in an age-appropriate way.
- Your children are likely to have many questions, especially if they have not learned about safe and unsafe touch before. Provide an open, comfortable space where you respect each question and explain that there are no “stupid” or “wrong” questions.
- Your children may need additional help differentiating between safe and unsafe touch regarding private areas. For example, they may ask, “What if people see my private parts when we shower at the swimming pool locker room?” You can turn this into a game by giving “what if” scenarios and asking your children to decide whether they are safe or unsafe situations.
- Avoid graphic details, as these descriptions can frighten, confuse, and scar your children. Instead, use honest, gentle language, such as “private parts” or “under your clothes.”
5. Develop a safety plan.
- Make sure your children know that if anyone touches them in unsafe ways, it is NOT their fault. Emphasize that if they ever feel uncomfortable, confused, scared, worried, or upset about any type of touch, they should tell you or another trusted adult right away. Explain that they would never get in trouble for doing so.
- Teach children that if they ever feel uncomfortable with the way someone is touching them, they should loudly and firmly say, “No. Do not touch me there” and get to a safe place. Teach your children how to ask for help when you are not with them.
- Create a safety plan that includes what to say and do, who to find, and where to go. Practice with your children so they feel comfortable.
How do you talk about safe touch with your children? What resources have been helpful? Please share with us!
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