Does your child know the safety rule?
I recently at an event at a local middle school, and got to talking to some parents afterwards. One mother was concerned about how her 11 year old daughter was dressing. I said, “First things first – have you had a safety conversation?” I was not surprised when the mother said no. Unfortunately, many parents skip talking about simple issues and are of course flummoxed by how to approach more complex ones. Start here:
It is vital that you tell your child that only you and their doctor are allowed to see or touch their private parts. Be firm about this exclusivity. No one else is allowed to touch them that way, not siblings, not friends, not other family members. If your kids are young, drill them on this rule at bath time. In the car on the way to a sleep over, ask if they remember the rule. Keep asking until you’re sure they know and remember it.
I can’t emphasize enough how important this conversation is. I didn’t know this rule. My siblings didn’t. Neither did my best friend. We all had experiences that our parents would have wanted to protect us from. It’s very simple, very powerful, and preventative. Too many children have sexual experiences, not because they are curious, but because a trusted relative, neighbor, or friend’s sibling took advantage of their innocence. Teaching your children this rule is the first step in preventing sexual abuse from ever happening.
If you think your child is ready for it, take it one step further. Ask, “If someone wants to look at or touch your private parts, what would you do?” Form a plan together. Maybe you want your child to shout “NO!” and run away from that person. Maybe you want your child to tell you immediately, calling you on your cell phone if necessary (Make sure they know your number! Practice singing all ten digits to help them remember). Emphasize that your child does not have to do everything that someone older or bigger than them wants them to do. In this case, it’s the right thing to do to say no to an adult.
If your child is older, like that mother’s 11 year old daughter, you might want to open the conversation more carefully, with a question. “Has anyone other than me or Daddy or a doctor wanted to see or touch your private parts?” You wouldn’t want to lay down the rule and have your child feel guilty that they unknowingly broke the rule at some point in the past. Sexually abused children often think the abuse was their fault, because they weren’t able to stop it from happening. If you uncover something troubling with this question, hide whatever outrage you might feel. Tell your child it’s not their fault, it doesn’t change how much you love them, and you’re glad they told you. Then consult an expert, like your child’s school psychologist. They can help you figure out what to do for your particular situation.
If you haven’t had the safety conversation yet, and your child is at least 3 years old, please do it tonight. Tomorrow, ask them if they remember the rule. Ask again in a week. Put it in your calendar if you have to! Keep asking until you know they’ve got it. Don’t let your child go another day without this important boundary.
Let this conversation be the first of many. By starting to talk about private parts and what you want for your child, you pave the way towards more difficult topics.
In support of you,
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3 essential conversations to have with your young child about sex & relationships