Tricky stuff

Keeping kids safe from abuse

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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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.