Talking to your family about staying safe can help to prevent abuse happening to your child.
Psychologist David Carey and Tess Noonan of the ISPCC give advice on how to keep your child safe.
Keeping kids safe
Keeping children safe from harm requires the ability to inform them of personal safety matters without also causing them to become anxious and fearful. The best course is to keep your language and approach aimed at the developmental and intellectual level of the child. In general, we talk about public and private body parts. The public parts are the ones you can see when you are wearing a bathing suit. The private parts are the ones you can’t see when you are wearing a bathing suit. Children can be told about this in simple language: “No one but mummy or daddy or our doctor can see or touch your private body parts.”
You should encourage children to never go near a car of someone they do not know. Children should be told not to talk to strangers unless mummy or daddy is with them. Children should also be told to stay away from anyone who offers them sweets or tells them they can give them a lift home or to school.
These common sense measures are usually enough to keep a child safe from harm and should not cause undue fear or anxiety in a child.
The best way to keep your child safe from harm is to be sure to know where they are, who they are with and who is caring for them when you are not around. Be sure you are totally comfortable with the person or people who are caring for your child. That includes family members. Unless you know them well, you should not let family members mind the children. Just because they are a cousin or other relation is not a reason for blind trust.
How do you know if your child has been subjected to physical or sexual abuse?
Any sudden change in behaviour is a reason for concern that the child is in distress. The distress may have nothing to do with molestation, but changes in behaviour should be watched carefully. If they last for several weeks you should be concerned. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. In a loving and trusting parent-child relationship children are more likely to talk about themselves and tell you about their day.
We know that the majority of children who have been abused do not divulge the abuse. Besides changes of behaviour, parents need to be watchful for children who are becoming overly affectionate with adults. Children who kiss and cuddle people they don’t know well, if they have never done this before, may be showing signs of having been abused. Children who fondle themselves and have not had a habit of doing it previously are in the same category. The following website is a good resource for parents:
Have faith in your parenting
Let’s not succumb to what one author has called “paranoid parenting”. Abuse of children, particularly sexual abuse, isn’t as common as we think it is. We do need to protect and inform our children about personal safety. Our primary schools do an excellent job of this as it is part of the Stay Safe curriculum and also covered in the Social, Personal Health Education curriculum. Be a good enough parent, don’t instill fear and anxiety in your child, know where they are and who they are with and keep communication open. Our children are safer than we usually think they are.
When is the right age that a parent can begin talking to their child about ways to keep them safe from abuse?
(e.g. The NSPCC’s Underwear Rule?)
Parents can start with very positive messages such as ‘you are special’ from when children first start to talk. Using the ISPCC 10 point Keep Safe Code is a good step by step approach. Start with telling your children how nice hugs are etc. and use your own behaviour to reinforce concrete messages . Never force a child or scold them for not hugging/kissing someone (such as grandparent/family member).
Children should learn that affection and hugs are good, but that they are something that they choose to give rather than something that they have to do or get into trouble if they don’t. The key message here is that children learn that they can say no to physical contact if they wish, which is the foundation for keeping themselves safe.
Next, teach your child about their body, tell them that it’s special and beautiful. Children are naturally curious and will want to learn about their body and names for body parts. Explain that all parts of the body are good and some are private. ISPCC has used the term ‘covered by your swimsuit’ but PANTS works well too. This also helps children understand about their own behaviour with other children, how other children need privacy too. Telling a young child about certain parts of their body being private does not need to be linked to sexual abuse in the beginning – it’s simply a clear message that your body belongs to you.
Creating an open relationship where children feel they can ask you anything, from the meaning of rude words to where babies come from is key to keeping them safe. This helps children understand that they can ask and tell you things without being embarrassed. This is essential, as they get older. Talk to children about secrets, good secrets but also that nothing needs to be kept a secret from you. If something happens that they are worried about or they think they are in trouble, they can still tell you and you will help them to find a way to make things okay.
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