10 Powerful Ways to Teach your Child the Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse

Are you Teaching your Toddler Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse
By Natasha Daniels

We teach our young children all sorts of ways to keep themselves safe. We teach them to watch the hot stove, we teach them to look both ways before they cross the street, but more often than not – body safety is not taught until much older – until sometimes…it is too late.

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. You want to hear something even scarier? According to the US Department of Justice only 10% of perpetrators were strangers to the child and 23% of the perpetrators were children themselves!

These statistics do not surprise me. In my practice I meet children on a weekly basis who have been victims of sexual abuse. Many of them are under five years old. Almost all of them knew their perpetrator and more often than not – it is another kid! Yes – another kid.

Parents will frequently tell me that they didn’t think this could happen to them. That they never leave their children with strangers. That they always keep their children within their eyesight.

Does your child go on playdates? Do they go to daycare or pre-school? Do you have friends or family over to your house? Do they play at the neighbor’s house? The fact is – you cannot fully prevent the risk of your child being sexually abused. I know that is hard to stomach – but unfortunately it is reality.

I have worked with really great families – who thought they had really great friends, neighbors, playmates, teachers, coaches, teammates, cousins, babysitters, siblings, uncles, boyfriends, and classmates. Perpetrators look just like you and me. They look just like your child – I think that is the scariest fact.

[irp posts=”161″ name=”The Proven Way to Build Resilience”]

The children I have worked with have come from good neighborhoods, good homes – go to really good schools. I have worked with kids who have been sexually abused by other kids as young as 4! I have worked with children who have been sexually abused on playdates, sleepovers, in the classroom, on the playground, on the school bus, in their playroom and out in their backyard.

Now that I have officially scared you to death – let’s walk you off that cliff. We have to face the fact that we cannot protect our children from breaking bones, getting hurt or making mistakes. Nor can we prevent them from being at risk for sexual abuse. Just like we allow our children to get on a bike, even though they might fall and hurt themselves – we have to allow our children to go out into the world and interact with those around them. But…just like the bike helmet, we can arm our children with knowledge that might keep them safe. [bctt tweet=”Knowledge might be the one difference that might save your children from being a victim.”]

Parents do not always talk to their children about body safety early enough. I have heard all sorts of reasons why this does not happen. They are too young. I keep an eye on them. They won’t understand. It is a scary topic. It won’t happen to me. We live in a good neighborhood.

Talk to your children. It is never too soon. It doesn’t have to be a scary conversation. Don’t wait another day. Start these conversations today. Here are the 10 most important areas to cover:

  1. Talk about body parts early.

    Name body parts and talk about them early – very early. Use proper names for body parts – or at least teach your child what the actual words are for their body parts. I can’t tell you how many young children I have worked with who have called their vagina their “bottom” and other various names. If a child needs to make a disclosure of abuse – this can make their story confusing.

  2. Teach them that body parts are private.

    Tell your child that their private parts are called private because their private parts are not for everyone to see. Explain that mommy and daddy can see them naked, but people outside of the home should only see them with their clothes on. Explain how their doctor can see them without their clothes because mommy and daddy are there with them and the doctor is checking their body.

    [irp posts=”1062″ name=”Toxic People Affect Kids Too: Know the Signs and How to Explore a Little Deeper”]

  3. Teach your child body boundaries.

    Tell your child matter-of-factly that no one should touch their private parts and that no one should ask them to touch somebody else’s private parts. Parents will often forget the second part of this sentence. Sexual abuse often begins with the perpetrator asking the child to touch them or someone else.

  4. Tell your child that body secrets are not okay.

    Most perpetrators will tell the child to keep the abuse a secret. This can be done in a friendly way such as, “I love playing with you, but if you tell anyone else what we played they won’t let me come over again” or as a threat – “This is our secret. If you tell anyone I will tell them it was your idea and you will get in big trouble!” Tell your child that no matter what anyone tells them, body secrets are not okay. Let your child know that they should always tell you if someone makes them keep a body secret.

  5. Tell your child that no one should take pictures of their private parts.

    This one is often missed by parents. There is a whole sick world out there of pedaphiles who love to take and trade pictures of naked children online. This is an epidemic and it puts your child at risk. If you only talk about body safety you might be missing a risk factor. Tell your child that no one should ever take pictures of their private parts.

  6. Teach your child how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations.

    Some children are uncomfortable with telling people “No” – especially older peers or adults. Help give them excuses to get out of uncomfortable situations. Tell your child that if someone wants to see or touch private parts they can tell them that they need to leave to go potty.

  7. Have a code word your child can use when they feel unsafe or want to be picked up.

    As children get a little bit older, you can give them a code word that they can use when they are feeling unsafe. This can be used at home, when there are guests in the house or when they are on a playdate or a sleepover.

  8. Tell your child they will never be in trouble if they tell you a body secret.

    Children often tell me that they didn’t say anything because they thought they would get in trouble too. This is often reiterated by the perpetrator. Tell your child that no matter what happens – when they tell you anything about body safety or body secrets they will NEVER get in trouble.

    [irp posts=”1086″ name=”Teaching Kids How To Set & Protect Their Boundaries (And Keep Toxic People Out)”]

  9. Tell your child that a body touch might tickle or feel good.

    Many parents and books talk about “good touch – bad touch” – but usually these touches do not hurt or feel bad. Try and stay away from these phrases, as it can confuse a child that is “tickled” in their private parts. I prefer the term “secret touch” – as it is a more accurate depiction of what might happen.

  10. Tell your child that even if they know someone or even if it is another child – these rules are the same.

    This is an important point to discuss with your child. When you ask a young child what a “bad guy” looks like they will most likely describe a cartoonish villain. Be sure to mention to your child that no one can touch their private parts. You can say something like, “No one should touch your private parts. Mommy and daddy might touch you when we are cleaning you or if you need cream – but no one else should touch you there. Not friends, not aunts or uncles, not teachers or coaches – no one. Even if you like them or think they are in charge, they should still not touch your private parts.”

I am not naïve enough to believe that these discussions will absolutely prevent sexual abuse, but I know that children are at a much greater risk without these talks. knowledge is a powerful deterrent to childhood sexual abuse – especially with young children who are targeted due to their innocence and ignorance in this area. Have these discussions often. One discussion is not enough. This is a topic that should be revisited again and again. Find natural times to reiterate these messages – such as bath time or when they are running around naked.

This can be a life altering article for some families and it has the power to prevent some horrific and traumatic experiences. Please share this article with those you love and care about and help me spread the message of body safety!

Natasha Daniels
About the Author: Natasha Daniels

Natasha is a Child Therapist and a mother to three vibrant, challenging and insightful children who keep her on her toes! She created her website, Anxious Toddlers, to offer support, guidance and laughs to parents of toddlers. She has spent the last fifteen years working with toddlers in her practice and helping families with parenting issues at Hill Child Counseling – ‘Sometimes toddlers can feel like a different species and I hope to help unlock the mystery of how to keep your little one smiling, laughing and enjoying the moment one day at a time.’

Natasha is a Clinical Social Worker and she received her post-graduate training in infant and toddler mental health at The Harris Institute. She is one of only a handful of child therapists who offer a specialty in toddler mental health and who has a practice that offers counseling to families on toddler parenting issues.

She spends half her week in her practice and the other half of her week soaking up the innocence of her children and enjoying the simpler things in life.

In September 2015 her book, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler will be released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

She can be reached at 

You can find Natasha at her website, Anxious Toddlers, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube



I have a two-year-old daughter. In our country, Iran, psychologists say that in the bathroom, I must wear panties, so I hide my vagina from my child. So does my daughter. She should wear panties in the bathroom. In the end I see the walls and tell her take off your panties and wash yourself.
I was totally nude up to here. Is it a correct behavior?
Thanks for responding me.

Anmol R

As a mother to a now 3year old girl, this is a really stressful issue for me. Believe it or not, one of the first fears I had when I knew it was a baby girl was about her safety. Ofcoz this doesn’t mean that boys don’t have to face such situations.
In fact, I was so worried when I started looking for a preschool. Luckily I came across a great school run solely by women! But reading stories about how kids are assaulting other kids is really scary. I am still in the process of figuring out how to go about explaining these things to my daughter.


A 6 year old neighbor boy asked my 5 year old daughter to take off her pants or her shir to show him. If not he won’t be friend with her anymore. She told him No and said she needed to go home.
When we went to talk to him, he acted as if it was all made up. I told my daughter she did the right thing for coming hime and tell me about it and that she was very brave to say NO. I have talked to my daughter about private body parts and its okay to say No, but I didnt know this would happen while I was outside with them. It happened in my neighbor’s backyard while I was in my garage where I could hear them and see them. Now I don’t know how I’m going to tell the boys parents and how to let my daughter play with him again without feeling sick. Because she think he is her best friend.


Something similar just happened with our 3-year-Old daughter and our 9-year-old boy neighbor. He asked our daughter to hold his penis. Then he blocked her way. She said no and ran past him and told my wife. At first my older boys told their sister she was lying (they are friends with the other boys) but from the beginning we told the boys they were not to say anything and that their sister was brave. Emily, your daughter is very brave and so is ours. We keep telling her this. No sexual contact happened and yet we are still very upset, but will keep telling our kids what is and is not appropriate. Take care and God bless your family:)


My 2 year old has implied her 1/2 brother was bad n when I say if any one touches you there she breaks down in tears… hes 15 . I’m scared to say anything because the dad is adimant I’m wrong n that kids been through hell…. I need advice. I feel like a horrible mother either way I go….


I know it’s been months later, so I hope this situation improved and I really feel for you. But whether it has or not it is never too late, and always remember you are first and foremost a mother. You must protect your child. You must bring this up,if it is safe for you. If it is not, please look at your situation x sending my love!


Hi Helen, I feel for you it’s a very upsetting situation. ThoughI you need to say something at 15 he would know it’s wrong and your little girl would now be 3 she needs you to be her voice and protector she will forever remember this if he has done something to her and it will shape her future for the worst if there is something going on and especially when one day she realises you knew and did nothing to help her.
Sending love and strength to you and your little girl.


I have a 2 1/2 year old. Is that too early to tell her these things or should I start now?


It is definitely not too early! I started telling my daughter about these things some time when she was 2 years old, and I continue to tell her these things. I’ve also made it clear to her that she can talk to me about anything! Things can happen so quickly! My daughter is 4 now and was just sexually assaulted by a boy she said was bigger than her while she was in the kids club at a big fitness chain less than 2 weeks ago. I say assaulted because the boy asked her to pull down her pants and show her butt and she told him no. He then pulled her pants down anyway, started rubbing his penis against her butt, had pushed her down and was touching her vagina, along with other horrific details. The boy even told her that it was a secret and not to tell anybody. I started to be concerned that a much older child had done this to her. There was only one attendant working in there, but I still have no idea how she missed all of this! Because I had started talking to my child early about these types of things, she disclosed what happened to her as soon as we got to the car. Luckily we were still in the parking lot, and I was able to have her tell the manager what she told me. Days later, I found out the offending child was only 5 years old, and had a history of bullying and starting fights with other children in the kids club there!

Robert M

This is the really important lesson that parents can teach to their kids. Sexual abuse is really common nowadays. This article provides tips to teach our kids as early as they can understand already.


Very well explained . I would like to share what happened with my 6 year old daughter and her friends. My daughter mingles and plays with girls who are 1-3 year elder and younger than her age . Yeasteday she went to for a play date at her friends house who is 8/9 months younger than her . All off sudden she came back and was sobbing her friend and her Mother also was with her. I asked what had happened.. her friends Mother explained me that she caught them playing underpanty games and scolded that’s why she is crying. I was shocked to know about this . I never saw such strange behaviour by her. After asking she reviled that she was playing and other Friend of her who is (1 and half year) elder than her taught her to play so. I am shocked by this , don’t know what to do in this situation. We have briefed her about private body parts and sefty earlier .
Her elder Friend said her if she don’t play underpanty games , she won’t be her Friend. Should I stop semding my daughter to play with them? How should I react ? please help me to bring her out of this situation

Karen Young

It’s important to get all of the information about what the underpanty game means. If this feels unsafe for your daughter, or if your daughter is compromised in any way, then yes, stop sending her. It’s important to trust kids when they are trying to tell us that something doesn’t feel right.


Article is very informative; however, I am still unsure how to handle this situation. I’m concerned about how my husband treats our 4 year old granddaughter. One time I found him downstairs walking around carrying her and the lights were off. He often takes her outside just the two of them alone. Often he sits with her and holds her in his lap. I asked him if she sits beside him or on his lap and that’s when he started having her sit beside him and not directly on his lap. I’ve walked in the room and saw his hand under her leg when she was wearing a skirt, he moved his hand quickly, making me suspicious. My grand daughter was sitting with her knees up and legs spread!
I am soooo angry and upset! Feel I can’t accuse him or talk with him because he would get so upset with me if I thought something wrong was happening or if I even accused him of such a thing! He was picked up my a man when he was 8 or 9 years old. He claims nothing happened. The man drove around for awhile then let him out of the car where he was picked up. I don’t know if he blocked it all out of his mind and never admitted it. If he was abused then that makes me more suspicious of him with our granddaughter. Could you please give me some advise? Thanks

Karen Young

You MUST speak with your husband about this. Perhaps it is innocent, and perhaps it isn’t, but until you are absolutely certain that your granddaughter is safe, it is important that she is not alone with your husband. There is no undo button here. There is a very strong feeling in you that something isn’t right, and it is important to listen to that. Your granddaughter won’t have the words or the voice to protect herself so it is for the important adults in her life to make sure she is safe. The decision for you now is whether you do everything you possibly can to make sure your granddaughter is safe, or do you ignore the signs and the feelings in you that something isn’t right, and expose her to the risk of catastrophic trauma that might change her forever.


Definitely don’t let her go there anymore! Growing up I had friends like this- later on in life I found out they were sexually abused by stepdad. Where else would a little girl learn this type of “game”? This makes me sick to my stomach. I’m sorry this happened to her and luckily she told you!!!!

Clarice A.

Two years ago when our daughter was 12,i had a good long talk with her about sex,boundries,saying no,etc.and she understood everything we talked about.Last year when she was 13,she finially made her First Holy Communion with the 7 and 8 year olds in the class of 2016.Since she was about halfway thru puberty and still kind of little girlish yet,we got her a cute,poofy,knee length communion dress with the matching veil and did the lace anklets and white mary jane shoes and under her dress we did a white undershirt and the traditional white cloth communion diaper with rubberpants over it,just like all the little girls wear.After her party,she went over to a friends house to show her friend her communion outfit,and her friend and her parents were out.The 16 year old brother was home alone and he invited the daughter in and they started talking.She told me the brother told her how cute and little girlish she looked and then all of a sudden lifted up the front of her communion dress and saw her diaper and rubberpants and put his hand on her crotch.She then said he asked her why she was wearing baby underwear and she told him that is what is normally worn under the communion dresses at her parish.Remembering what i had talked to her about a year earlier,she left in a hurry and came home and told me what happened.

Karen L.

Clarice,kudos to your daughter for leaving that situation right away! I have chatted with some other moms whose daughters made their First Holy Communion as teens and a couple of them told me that they caught their teen daughters alone with a boy and the boys hand was up under the communion dress and he was rubbing it over their daughters communion diaper and rubberpants also.The daughters of these two moms were 14 and 15 and the two moms told me that they had a good sex talk with their daughters when they were 12 years old and that their girls understood what sex was about.The two moms told me that their daughters were put on the spot and that the boy in each case was somewhat forceful and they wanted to see and touch the diaper and rubberpants under their daughters dresses.


Hi, I need your help. I have a daughter of 5 year old and she and her friends like to visit our neighbour who is a divorcee, because he gives chocolates every time. Off late, she has started mentioning that the uncle is very nice, plays hide and seek with them inside the house, makes them laugh by tickling and she seems to be liking it. Though there is no nasty things happening but I fear that this might be a start of a bad intention. I don’t know how to stop her from going there. If I say no she might start hiding facts from me. I am worried. Please help

Karen Young

Chaitra, this may all be innocent, but if there is any doubt in your mind you need to act. If you are unsure, go with them when they go to his house so that you are there to watch what is happening and keep them safe. It’s vital that you give your daughter the information she needs to protect herself. There is some great information and resources on this site that can help with that http://e2epublishing.info/


I have 2 grandchildren born 2 days apart. They are almost 4 years old now. I had a nightmare with my granddaughter last night, regarding sexual abuse. I woke up out of breath and in a panic. I can not begin to even think of anyone abusing any of my grandbabies. I was abused at a young age by my own family and to this day it haunts me and makes me angry. I did not understand what was happening to me, I just knew it did not feel right and it made me very uncomfortable. I see my grandbabies and how innocent and beautiful they are and cannot even gather in my mind anyone touching them inappropriately. I looked online for help and answers and came across this article. I will share this with my daughter and daughter-in-law. It was very helpful and I hope this will help my family not have to go through what I did as a child.


Pls, I have 3daughters, aged, 9,7,6. I also have a nephew aged 11, who i adopted and has been with us for six month now. He’s upbringing is different from that of my children, being that he grew up in a poor rural environment. I have the intention of giving him a better life here in the city.
Somehow, I fear leaving him alone with my girls.
What do u do to ensure any sort of abuse does not arise between him and the girls?

Also, can I discuss sexual abuse prevention to all of them at the same time?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Open and honest conversation is so important for all children. There needs to be really clear discussion about boundaries and the types of behaviour that are okay and not okay. There are things you can discuss with all of them at the same time, but there will also be things that the older children are ready for, that the younger children might not be. Here is an article that will help with that https://www.heysigmund.com/kid-needs-know-age-age-guide-sex-education/.


Thanks a lot for the article!!
May I ask…how can we explain that other people cannot touch their private parts in the situation of childcare setting where the carers will need to clean their private parts or see them using the toilet…? Appreciate your reply and guidance!! Thank you!


Personally, I agree with teaching them the right names for things and not to keep secrets, but I think the most important thing to prevent abuse is to teach children that they can say no to touch if it makes them uncomfortable, even if it’s an adult asking. Then back them up when someone pushes that boundary – even grandma doesn’t get to touch them without their permission!


Great article! But i still didn’t found the courage to talk to my 4 Yeats old about it. First because when i talk to her about everyday issues, i feel like she gets half of what i am saying and understands the rest totally wrong. And also, I never had this conversation with my mom so I don’t know how to address it. Is it out of the blue? Is it while getting her dressed? Is it with a scary tone? A funny friendly tone? I feel strongly that I need to axplain this to her but I just can’t find the courage.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

It can be difficult to know how to start these conversations. One of Jay’s books would be a good place to start. Also, these conversations happen best incidentally – in the car, while you’re walking the dog. It also doesn’t need to happen all at once. While she’s having a bath, that might be a time to matter-of-factly let her know how she is the boss of her body and go from there. Definitely don’t use a scary tone. You want her to feel as though she can come and talk to you freely and if you scare her, it might shut that down. Remember too that at 4, the conversation might feel awkward for you, but she will love talking to you about anything.


Thank you for your advice! I will first let her feel she is the boss of her body and then little by little I will get her to know everything you talked about in the article. I think also I might have to remind her from time to time. Thx.


I recently discovered that my 6 1/2 year old made a friend’s 4 year old pull down her pants so he could look at her private parts and he kept showing her his penis. She was very not okay with all this and went home extremely upset. I didn’t find out about it until my friend told me after her daughter had told her about it. From your article, it sounds like if my son knew the rule about yes’s and no’s, he would have known to get a yes from her before doing what he did. But I wouldn’t want him engaging in that kind of behavior just because the other child said yes. I am okay with him exploring his body but I am not okay with him engaging in exploration with my friend’s kids, even if they say yes! He is too little to know what is and isn’t appropriate. And that is much too young of an age to be experimenting with sexual acts.
Are you saying with your yes/no rule that this behavior is okay or am I interpreting it wrong?
How do I prevent my child from touching other children’s body parts? How can I tell him no one can touch his and then tell him that he can touch other people’s body’s if the person says yes? The other implication of that is that if he says yes, then someone CAN touch his body and that could also lead to bad situations.

Hey Sigmund

Alena the idea is to teach your son to protect the boundaries around the parts of his own body that are private, and only for him to touch, and to respect the body boundaries of other children. The idea around yes/no is for older children when they start to experiment in their relationships and when they understand the issue of consent. For younger children, the rules need to be more black and white – it’s never okay to touch someone else on the breasts, bottom or genitals, and same for their own bodies. Be clear about the boundaries. For young children, it is not possible to consent because they don’t know exactly what they are consenting to. This is why it is important to have concrete rules around the parts of the body they are not allowed to touch, and the parts of this body that nobody else is allowed to touch (though there will be exceptions to this, such as a doctor, but when you are present). I understand that it can be confusing – and it’s confusing for our kids too. This is why we need to be clear and concrete, particularly when they are younger. It’s why it’s also important that we nurture a relationship that helps them to feel as though they can come to us when they are confused about anything, and that nothing is off limits when it comes to asking us questions.

ajimotokan Hafsah

I think basically we should teach our kids that kouth to kouth kissing isnt ok for anybody, thus parents themselves should only peck their kids and not kiss them and tell them not to allow anyone koss them on the mouth and not kiss anyone too


I guess my only problem with this article is that it teaches “mommy and daddy” is ok. Well that’s not the case in my case, and by telling my child that very phrase I may have told her the abuse was fine, or kept her from telling period. I recently found out about her own father abusing her for 6 years, and only found out because I caught my youngest daughter putting toys where they don’t belong.. Upon telling her this story she eventually ended up telling me only to save her little sister from years of abuse! Mommy or daddy aren’t always ok..

Hey Sigmund

Thank you so much for sharing this and I’m sorry that this has happened to your daughters. I wish no child had to go through this. Your daughter has shown incredible courage. I wish you and your girls much love and hope that they are now able be safe and feel support, love and strength around them as they heal.

Annette M. Alix

Excellent article and responses but there is another issue not addressed. From my own experience, I can tell you that another part of the body that is not included in these sex talks with children is the mouth and the type of kissing that should not occur. My own experience started very early as a preschool child, first with hugs from my father and uncle that were too close and painful to the point where I could not breathe. Then later, my father managed to meet me as I walked home from grade school with hugs and kisses on the mouth. As I entered the teen years, there were disgustingly uncomfortable kisses with his tongue in my mouth which he prefaced with “Say prunes”! Finally, because I missed so badly, having a male influence in my life, and because I had not seen him in a long time, I decided to bring my friends with me to see him. I wanted something to be proud of in connection with my father. He played the piano as I did and I wanted to “show him off”. So my girlfiend and her boyfriend plus another boy – a neighbor of mine – all went to his apartment. I was sixteen and he impressed my friends with his piano playing. Later, he drew me aside, he said “Say prunes, then grabbed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth. Somehow, I managed to work up the courage to push him aside, and told him “NO!” – and said “I don’t even kiss my boyfriends that way!” I didn’t see him for along time afterwards. I’ve tried not to make this too long. There is much more I could say. But mainly I’m writing this with the hope that you could address the issue of kissing children on the mouth – and that there are some types of kissing that may not be appropriate for young children. They need to know that it is NOT ok. I wish I had known. I’m a grandmother, now and the memories are still vivid in my mind.

Casey M

I’m so sorry your father would do that to you- I wish I could hear the rest of your story as I think the best advice on this subject would come from those who experienced these sorts of things as a child- they are the ones who truly know how it happens and what signs a parent should be looking for –


What a great article and great advice. There are so many things out there that could harm our children if we don’t prepare them to protect themselves (as little as they are) or at least know what to do in case of. So many worries for us mothers. The right way of communicating to your child how to be safer is key. Sometimes it’s just difficult to find it without scaring them…


I actually have one more question- how do you teach children not to be the perpetrators of these abuses? I don’t imagine a 4 or 5 year old sets out to sexually abuse a classmate or is an evil child and yet from your article it sounds like that happens. So part of this discussion might also be spent explaining why it isn’t ok to touch other people either or making sure that we are both protecting our kids as well as teaching them not to be perpetrators. Sad but true- it can’t all be about the victim being responsible for saving themselves- I would like to think that we could teach the perpetrator not to do these things.

Hey Sigmund

Absolutely – teaching kids to respect other people’s boundaries is also important. You don’t want to make them scared of the world though, or of being close to other people. I think a big part of it is teaching them that no means no – for them and other people. The gentle conversations we have with them along the way are all important.

Martha Gibbons

Thanks for a very helpful article by the original author, but even greater gratitude to Nancy Barrett who wrote an excellent response. She spoke to all the issues I had when I finished reading the article – and came up with what I considered “the reality check” – handling those “exceptions to THE RULES” so life can go on! Recognizing that every child will absorb these “Do’s and Dont’s” differently (even siblings raised similarly) Ms. Barrett’s take on this important issue may come across as being more realistic for parents who know their children must interact with family members and caregivers on a regular basis. Today assuming that every child is being raised by a MOM and/or a DAD is not realistic. Teaching children to trust loving, competent
adults is as important (and difficult!) as helping them discern their “gut feelings” when confronted with would-be abusers. Not an easy task, but a necessary one, indeed! Again, thanks to both contributors!

Nancy Barrett

While I agree with most of your article, and I’ve done similar things while raising my daughter, and working with my previous clients, there are two things I believe you didn’t address adequately.

Younger children DO need to have their diaper or pull-up changed at daycare or preschool, so explaining to them that a caregiver might have to touch their privates with toilet paper or wipes (not bare hands) to help them clean is okay. Some potty-trained kids aren’t efficient at wiping either, so parents may need to tell them it’s okay to have an adult help if needed. In kindergarten my friend’s son came home with poop smeared all over his butt one day because he refused to let the teacher help him wipe – not because he was stubborn about doing it himself or because he didn’t trust the teacher (who had also been his preschool teacher for 2 years before kinder and had changed and wiped him hundreds of times before) but because they had talked the night before about not letting anyone touch his private parts. Kids are SO literal!! He had been sitting in his poop for about 2 hours before his mom picked him up, and she then had to go back and clarify with him that it was okay to have certain people help with wiping if he needed it.

I also feel you didn’t fully explain what sexual abuse by another child is vs. normal childhood behavior. There are parents out there who truly believe that their 1 or 2 year old operates with the same level of thought and logic as an older child or adult. They believe their littles puposefully do things to be defiant or aggressive instead of recognizing its a developmental stage or an opportunity to teach appropriate behavior. A 3 or 4 year old touching a same-aged peer is probably not being abusive; they are just being curious and that’s a great opportunity for some basic education about gender differences! I’ve been out of the field for a few years now, but when assessing if abuse occurred I was always taught to look at the age difference (both chronological age and cognitive age) between the two children, whether threats of harm (or promises of rewards) were made by the child who has more power in the relationship, the frequency with which the touching occurred, and the level of distress that the incident(s) caused for the child. In a lot of the cases I worked with, the child was actually more distressed by their parent’s reaction to the incident than the actual incident itself. If you are concerned about something your child tells you, trust your gut, consult a professional and DON’T freak out about it within earshot of your child.

And that brings me to my final point. I think it is vital that we teach our children NOT to fear and distrust everyone they meet, while simultaneously teaching them to be safe. The rule in our family is that it IS okay to talk to strangers … as long as a parent or trusted adult is there to supervise (usually within earshot, but as she’s gotten older, sometimes it’s just within eyesight), and you don’t give out personal info before checking with the adult. At least 85% of the people your child sees on a daily basis are decent human beings, and interaction with others is a human need that our society is neglecting. My daughter loves to spread her happiness to others, and I don’t want to squash that love for life out of her. As she has gotten older, I’ve given her more responsibility for deciding if her gut says this is a safe person or not, but we still have the final say-so. I don’t want to send her into the world believing everyone is out to hurt her OR that everyone is perfectly safe. Tough balancing act, but it can be done.


I think this is great input and emphasizes the need for balance on this topic. Kids and families need accurate information to act wisely but not to be made so anxious that they fear healthy interactions….a great balancing act


When I had the ‘stranger-danger’ and ‘good touch bad touch’ talk with my surrogate/adopted 7 year son ( I wish wish I had had heard of “secret touch, I like the term better. Nothing ever happened to him, just saying – it’s a much more accurate,and far less likely to be misinterpreted if tickles or feel good touches were to happen) I found myself having difficulty answering him when he wanted to know the difference between the types of feelings. I was reluctant to answer either. I understood what he was asking. I had explained to him that people who might try do this may try make a game out of it or pretend it was an accident or start by tickling somewhere else or some other “trick.” So, if something felt “wrong” it was ok to tell them he doesn’t like it and they have to stop. He wanted to know how he could tell the the difference. I decided to explain his body would tell him by butterflies in his stomach or something like that. He would know, and if there was any doubt then stop before it starts but always always stop.
The other thing I wanted to mention, that I told him, and think is important, is to do with strangers. We have to teach them to be careful and avoid and not talking to strangers. But, we can’t make them afraid of strangers either. A situation could happen where the kid is lost or in trouble when they need help. If we tell them ‘Never’ talk to strangers, they could be lost or avoiding a threatening ‘stranger and because we told them to ‘Never talk to ANY stranger they may not go to an adult if they find themselves in a situation where they need help.


I was not informed as a child and was sexually assaulted by a classmate in kindergarten. My entire year of school, multiple boys mounted and dry humped me, grabbed my butt and vulvar area, followed me to the bathroom to try to catch me with my pants off and kiss me. Naturally, I did not know how to explain touching me was making me uncomfortable BECAUSE it was inappropriate so at the very end of the year when they were caught it finally stopped. In my opinion this is different than “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” or “that doesn’t look like what I have”. This is a very important conversation to have with young children. It will not teach mistrust, it will give opportunity to talk with them about what appropriate/necessary touch is (caregiver wiping, curious self discovery etc) while keeping them safe. It will foster the door of communication being OPEN between your child and you to learn as needed what is ok. Please educate them.

Dawn M

I was abused by a neighbor teen when I was 4 or 5. He would close me in a room and make me touch him. I didn’t tell my parents, but told another friend who was my age. She told her parents. Done all wrong, Me, the other little girl, my parents, her parents, and the perpetrator’s parents had a meeting and made us “tell the truth” “ are you just making up stories?” The other girl then said she made it up, so in the uncomfortable spotlight, I said I made it up too. In the first grade, I was whispering with a friend about a show me yours, I’ll show you mine consensual experience with a boy the same age as me. A classmate boy overheard and blackmailed me for multiple years and would trap me in the coat room to pull my pants down, encouraged a few other boys to watch also. His hold over me was to tell the teacher what I had done with my neighbor friend. This was the horror I endured my whole grade school years. I had been pre trained not to tell my parents because of “ telling stories “ when I was 4. I was well into my thirties when I finally told my mom I was not lying about being abused by the teen boy. She told me his parents were going to send him away to what used to be called reform school. I am in my sixties now and his sister remains my best friend. I see her brother at weddings, funerals, etc.


One question tho – how does one prevent kids from then seeing later, normal sexual experimentation as being wrong or dirty?

Hey Sigmund

This is such a great question. Firstly, I think it’s important to let them know that anything they want to do on their own in private is okay – that’s all part of normal exploration and it’s important that they get to know their own body. When they’re little, it not so much about specifically telling them it’s okay but more about not standing in their way. Kids will naturally be curious about their own body and that’s healthy and normal. The main thing is that they are given space to do that, that they understand that it’s completely fine, but that it’s something that happens in private – not because it’s wrong or dirty but because it’s private. It’s kind of like having a bath – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a bath – it’s fun and everyone does it, but they wouldn’t get naked and have a bath in their classroom with their whole class watching because it’s private.

Secondly, empower them to take notice of that voice inside them or that feeling that something isn’t right. Let them know that they can always say ‘no’ to someone who asks something of them if it doesn’t feel right or if they don’t feel comfortable doing it.

Thirdly, let them know about the 2 yes’ and 1 no rule – sexual experimentation is completely normal and okay but when there is someone else involved, a ‘yes’ requires a yes from both people involved (2 yes’s) and a no only takes 1 no – if one person doesn’t want to do ahead (and that one person can be them, of course!) then it doesn’t happen.

It’s about empowering them to decide, making sure they don’t feel judged or shamed when they explore their own bodies (but guiding them towards privacy), giving them permission to explore and experiment, and empowering them to say ‘no’ if they want to. The ‘yes’ is up to them (and when they are older it’s also up to the other person they are with) and the ‘no’ is up to them. Hope this helps.


Very useful article – a subject I have been bracing myself to tackle with my kids and this has really helped me feel more prepared.


This is such an excellent article. I have often wondered how to talk about this with my young children and now I feel much more prepared for that conversation. I worry so much about sexual abuse and my kids because they are so young and so innocent. This article has armed me with the talking points I need to speak openly with my kids about sexual abuse and, hopefully, arm them with the tools they need to get help if they ever need it or avoid a dangerous situation. Thank you!

Nikki Shanahan

I have done all of the suggestions since my daughter was 4ish. You would be surprised how many people berate me for teaching my child the correct names for her body parts and all about private parts and who can or cannot touch them. People believe that children do not need to know that there are sick people out in the world, but I disagree. Forewarned is forearmwd. My daughter does not feel scared but knows there are wierd people out there and how to protect herself.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our newsletter

We would love you to follow us on Social Media to stay up to date with the latest Hey Sigmund news and upcoming events.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️
Such a beautiful 60 second wrap of my night with parents and carers in Hastings, New Zealand talking about building courage and resilience in young people. Because that’s how courage happens - it builds, little bit by little bit, and never feeling like ‘brave’ but as anxiety. Thank you @healhealthandwellbeing for bringing us together happen.♥️


Original post by @healhealthandwellbeing:
🌟 Thank You for Your Support! 🌟

A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for the "Building Courage and Resilience" talk with the amazing  Karen Young - Hey Sigmund. Your support for Heal, our new charity focused on community health and wellbeing, means the world to us!

It was incredible to see so many of you come together while at the same time being able to support this cause and help us build a stronger, more resilient community.

A special shoutout to Anna Catley from Anna Cudby Videography for creating some fantastic footage Your work has captured the essence of this event perfectly ! To the team Toitoi - Hawke's Bay Arts & Events Centre thank you for always making things so easy ❤️ 

Follow @healhealthandwellbeing for updates and news of events. Much more to come!

#Heal #CommunityHealth #CourageAndResilience #KarenYoung #ThankYou

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This