Sunday, December 30, 2012

Beginning the Conversation About Touching Safety Committee for Children

Beginning the Conversation About Touching Safety

Committee for Children

Beginning the Conversation About Touching Safety

A vital step that you can take to keep your children safe is to talk with them about touching and private body parts. This might not be the easiest subject to bring up with a child. You might feel uncomfortable or embarrassed talking with your children about sexuality or touching. These are common feelings. It is often hard to know what to say. Here are some tips to get you started.

Include Touching in Safety Rules

Make touching safety part of your family's safety rules. One way to make it easier to talk about touching is to discuss it in the context of safety. Touching is a safety issue just like crossing the street or playing with matches.
Some typical family safety rules are:
  • Never play with matches. (Fire safety)
  • Look both ways and listen before you cross the street. (Walking safety)
  • Always wear a seat belt. Always sit in your booster seat. (Car safety)
  • Never play with guns. (Gun safety)
  • Always wear a helmet when riding your bike. (Bike safety)
  • Never give out personal information over the phone. (Phone safety)
Create and teach family safety rules about touching just as you would teach other rules. Talking about personal safety in a sensitive and age-appropriate way with your children will not frighten them; it will give them skills and knowledge to use throughout their lives. You can begin teaching touching safety rules to children as soon as they are able to understand, even if they can't talk.

Use Everyday Moments to Teach

Children learn by asking questions, so a good way to talk about touching safety is to be open to questions and comments. If you're open and respond in a way that keeps the conversation going, you can turn a child's unexpected comment or question into a learning opportunity. Be sure to vary your responses according to the age of your child. Some situations that present natural teaching opportunities follow.
Bath or bedtime. When children are young and still need help with dressing and bathing, it's not unusual for them to ask the names of private body parts. Experts recommend that parents teach the correct names for private body parts, along with the names of other parts of the child's body. This normalizes the discussion and enables children to use actual words to use to describe their private body parts and to tell about abuse if it happens.
Physical play situations. Children love physical play, such as tickling and roughhousing. It is a normal part of childhood. It is also a great opportunity to introduce touching rules. Remind children of the rules on a regular basis: "Remember, we have a family touching rule. You can say 'stop' or 'no' when you don't want to be tickled, and the other person must listen to you." This gives children permission to set boundaries with unwanted or unsafe touch and opportunities to practice resisting.

When a child expresses curiosity about his or her body or about sexuality. Use such moments as an opportunity to follow up with age-appropriate information. Do your homework ahead of time by reading books on the subject so that you'll be ready when your child asks questions.

Before a child goes out, especially without you. Routinely go over safety rules, including rules about touching, before your family or child goes on an outing. Ask, "What are some of our safety rules about walking?" and "What are our safety rules about touching?"

Read a children's book together. There are a number of different books that are designed to help teach touching safety. Here are some suggestions for how to read the book together:
  • Choose a quiet time when you and your child will not be interrupted.
  • Read the book aloud as you would a story.
  • Listen carefully to what your child says while you read.
  • Show that you are open to whatever your child wants to tell you.
  • Use questions and comments as entry points to talk further about safety and touching and to introduce touching safety rules.
  • Ask open-ended questions that start or extend a conversation: "What do you think the boy should do?" "What kind of safe touch happened in the story?"
Appropriate videos can also be used in the same way. Check your local library for videos that address personal safety issues for children.

Revisit the Conversation

Just like crossing the street safely, touching safety is not a one-time conversation. Children need frequent reminders and practice of all family safety rules. Ensure that your children are learning the rules and skills to keep them safe by revisiting the rules during normal family activities.

Don't let embarrassment or nervousness get in the way of talking to your children about touching safety. Find a way that works for you and begin the conversation.

By Bridgid Normand, M.Ed.
Program Developer
Committee for Children

Bridgid Normand, M.Ed. is a program developer for Committee for Children and a former child and family therapist, school counselor, and parent educator.

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