Body Safety – Empowering Kids to Stay Safe

Body Safety - Empowering Kids to Stay Safe

With one in five girls and one in eight boys sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and with 90% of children knowing their perpetrator, it’s important that the children in our care know the following crucial and life-changing skills in body safety.

The 10 empowering Body Safety skills below will go a long way in keeping children safe from sexual abuse, and assisting them to grow into assertive and confident teenagers and adults. There is no downside!

Teaching Children About Body Safety

  1. Name body parts correctly.

    As soon as your child begins to talk and is aware of their body parts, begin to name them correctly (toes, nose, eyes, etc). Children should also know the correct names for their genitals from a young age. Try not to use ‘pet names’. This way, if a child is touched inappropriately, they can clearly state to you or a trusted adult where they have been touched.

  2. Teach them about the ‘private zones’.

    Teach your child that their penis, vagina, bottom, breasts and nipples are called their ‘private parts’ and that these are their body parts that go under their swimsuit. Note: a child’s mouth is also known as a ‘private zone’.

  3. Help them name their safety network.

    Teach your child that no-one has the right to touch or ask to see their private parts, and if someone does, they must tell you or a trusted adult straightaway. Reinforce that they must keep on telling until they are believed. (Statistics tell us that a child will need to tell three people before they are believed.) As your child becomes older (3+) help them to identify five trusted adults they could tell. These people are part of their ‘safety network’.  Have your child point to each digit on their hand and say the names of the people on their ‘safety network’.

  4. If other people ask you to look or touch …

    Teach your child that if someone (i.e. the perpetrator) asks them to touch their own private parts, shows their private parts to the child or shows them images of private parts that this is wrong also, and that they must tell a trusted adult straight away. Reinforce that they must keep on telling until they are believed. 

  5. Encourage them to talk about feelings.

    At the same time as you are discussing inappropriate touch, talk about feelings. Discuss what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, excited, etc. Encourage your child in daily activities to talk about their feelings, e.g. ‘I felt really sad when … pushed me over.’ This way your child will be more able to verbalize how they are feeling if some-one does touch them inappropriately.

  6. Talk about ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. 

    Talk with your child about feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. Discuss times when your child might feel ‘unsafe’, e.g. being pushed down a steep slide; or ‘safe’, e.g. snuggled up on the couch reading a book with you. Children need to understand the different emotions that come with feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. For example, when feeling ‘safe’, they may feel happy and have a warm feeling inside; when feeling ‘unsafe’ they may feel scared and have a sick feeling in their tummy.

  7. Discuss early warning signs.

    Discuss with your child their ‘Early Warning Signs’ when feeling unsafe, i.e. heart racing, feeling sick in the tummy, sweaty palms, feeling like crying. Let them come up with some ideas of their own. Tell your child that they must tell you if any of their ‘early warning signs’ happen in any situation. Reinforce that you will always believe them and that they can tell you anything.

  8. And about secrets …

    As your child grows, try as much as possible to discourage the keeping of secrets. Talk about happy surprises such as not telling Granny about her surprise birthday party and ‘bad’ secrets such as someone touching your private parts. Reinforce that surprise are happy and will always be told. Make sure your child knows that if someone does ask them to keep an inappropriate secret that they must tell you or someone in their ‘safety network’ straightaway.

  9. No! Stop!

    Discuss with your child when it is appropriate for someone to touch their private parts, e.g. a doctor when they are sick (but making sure they know a person on their Safety Network in the room). Discuss with your child that if someone does touch their private parts (without you there) that they have the right to say: ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’ and outstretch their arm and hand. Children (from a very young age) need to know their body is their body and no-one has the right to touch it inappropriately.

  10. The invisible bubble.

    Ensure you child knows their body is their body and they are the boss of it. Reinforce the idea that everyone has an invisible body bubble around us (personal space) and that they do not have to hug or kiss someone if they don’t want to. They can choose to give that person a high five or shake their hand instead.

These simple but empowering skills can make all the difference to a child’s life. So many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse say if only they had known from the first inappropriate touch it was wrong how different their lives would have been. Please educate your child, your community and yourself in Body Safety Education to keep our kids safe.


About the Author: Jayneen Sanders.

Jayneen SandersJayneen Sanders (aka Jay Dale) is a teacher, children’s author, mother of three daughters and an active advocate for Body Safety Education and respectful relationships to be taught both in homes and schools.

Jayneen specializes in writing empowering books for children in the topic areas of Body Safety: ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’, ‘My Body! What I Say Goes!’, consent: ‘No Means No!’ and gender equality and respectful relationships: ‘No Difference Between Us’ and ‘Pearl Fairweather, Pirate Captain’. Jayneen’s website has many resources for parents including the parents’ and educators’ guide ‘Body Safety Education’ and other free resources to help empower and educate children.

For more information on this topic and to purchase Jayneen’s books for those in Australia go to e2epublishing.info

All Jayneen’s books are now available on Amazon.

4 Comments

Naketa

Thank you so much Jayneen for sharing this article. I have been sexually violated as a child and young adult into my late 20’s and there was never anyone to tell as the people closest to me abused me too in other ways. I learned to cry quietly, in bed at night. I learned to be safe alone – which I always loved my own company anyway. And it always seemed that whenever I connected genuinely and safely with anyone, they never stayed. Death, travel or disconnecting somehow. Now at 36, I have a 2 year old girl and she is the sweetest and I trust NO ONE.. siblings included – whom I no longer communicate with. She is loving and affectionate and still quite cautious and I allow the space for her expression but in the community/society we live in, it is common behaviour to want sympathy for knowing better but insisting on acting ignorantly about the way we handle people generally and children, much worst. I am her safety network and my own. This helps with reinforcing and support for my desire to care for my daughter in a way that I know is healthy and not this “everyone is doing it” type nonsense which I have already gotten curled lips, eye rolls and attitudes from so called siblings when she was only months because I was creating an atmosphere of “you have a choice and you get to choose”. Thanks again.. and I appreciate you!

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Jayneen Sanders

I’m so sorry you were abused as a child. That legacy is such a heavy weight to carry. I hope your healing journey continues and I’m sure you daughter will be incredibly safe with you as her mum. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Best Jayneen x

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Jane

My 3 yr old son is terrified of going to my brothers house and has insisted that Iif we go there I must not leave him. He in particular has been very distressed when my nephew (18) shows up or is home. When he is not there he seems fine. My other siblings have told me to stop being so ridiculous and pandering to the silly whims of a three yr old. I on the other hand continue to listen to him but was told by the rest of my family to convince my son that my nephew isn’t a bad guy. I felt caught in a quandary because I feel what if he has done something that has made my son feel this way and then I am convincing him that he’s an ok person when perhaps he’s not. I have to say my sons reaction is very convincing he was extremely traumatised by my nephews presence. Even if he’s at the house but can’t be seen. How do I deal with my family, brothers family and nephew and child. It has caused a rift between my brother and I.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Jane I completely understand your conflict here, but your son has to come first. 3 year olds don’t ‘make up’ their responses to people. For some reason, your son feels distressed when your nephew is present, and this is all that matters. There may be many reasons for this, not necessarily because of a sexual assault, but until you know what has happened, it’s so important that you support him on this. At 3 years old, your son might have difficulty articulating the reason, but it sounds as though he is very clear on what he needs (not to be left alone at your brother’s house) and also how he feels about your nephew. For whatever reason, your son feels unsafe in your nephew’s presence. His needs at this point are more important than anyone else’s because he isn’t able to feel safe on his own. He needs your support for that.

There are many things that adults can do that cause children to feel scared of them. Some of these can be done unintentionally and some of them will cause breakage if the child isn’t supported in response to them. It may be that whatever is upsetting your son about your nephew isn’t because of anything sexually abusive, but because of something he saw, something he heard, or something else he experienced in relation to your nephew. It sounds as though it’s very unclear what has made him feel this way, but what is clear as that he is frightened and distressed when your nephew is around. If your son feels unsafe, it’s important you do whatever it takes to help him feel safe and acknowledged. He needs to know that you are with him on this.

Let your son know that do what he needs you to do to feel safe. If you can, try to ask your son to draw or talk about what it was that has made him feel this way. Of course it’s very important not to ask any questions that might lead him in a particular direction. Until you have a clearer idea about what has happened to create these feelings in your son, it’s important to do what you need to do to help your son feel safe. I understand this is difficult for the rest of your family, but your son’s response and distress are very real, and it’s important that he is put first.

Perhaps your nephew isn’t a bad guy, and perhaps this has been a misunderstanding. Let your family know you are open to that, but until this can be confirmed, your son’s needs have to come first. It’s important that you do what you need to do to help your son feel safe and protected. If that means not leaving your son alone with your nephew, or only seeing your family when your nephew isn’t there, then that’s what needs to happen, at least until it can be made absolutely clear that your son hasn’t been harmed by your nephew.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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