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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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