As moms, it's in our nature to worry about our kids and their safety. We can do one of two things with our worry: gnaw on it so that it becomes anxiety (which brings on a host of its own problems) or let it put us into action. I've had my battle with anxiety and, believe me, I don't want to go back there. So, instead, I choose to take action.
Sometimes this means using the tools I've learned to combat thoughts of worry and other times it means doing things to help keep my child safe. We all do this, right? Helmets when riding bikes, baby proofing the house, cut their food in quarters, look both ways before crossing the street... these are all things we do to keep our children safe - to prevent accidents or minimize the impact, should the unpreventable happen. Body safety is, yet another, thing for us to worry about but it can sometimes be easy to think "it will never happen" or we are being overly cautious.
So, what is body safety, anyway?
Just like any other type of safety (water safety, kitchen safety, etc.), body safety is basically the boundaries and guidelines we set in place to keep us safe and prevent an incident as much as it is within our control. As moms, it is our job to also set these guidelines up for our children to help keep them safe.
Why do we need body safety rules?
1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18. (source) That's approximately 2-3 students in the average high school senior homeroom class or 1-2 children in the average elementary classroom have been, are being or will be abused by age 18. Just to put it into perspective for you.
20% of children that have been sexually abused have been abused before age 8. (source)
While these numbers are different than what we normally see (1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys; published by the CDC over 20 years ago) child sexual abuse is still far too prevalent! In addition, 90% of children that are sexually abused know their perpetrator.
As parents, we can't afford to adopt the "it'll never happen to us" mentality. We must make body safety a priority! Even if we can't completely prevent it, teaching our children body safety can spare our children the horrible heartache of becoming a victim of sexual abuse.
When should we start teaching our kids body safety?
It is never too early to start! I have been talking to my son about body safety since he was a baby. Sure, he may not have been able to understand me, but by doing this, it became a comfortable thing for me to talk about it.
8 Things to Teach Your Toddler About Body Safety:
The proper terms for body parts.
There are three major reasons for this: 1) Should someone inappropriately touch your child and your child chooses to tell someone other than you, there will be no mistaking about what took place. 2) If a report needs to be made, it is much easier to sort through the details without having to decode body parts. and 3) If a child says, "don't touch my penis", you better believe that perpetrator will think twice. Why? Because this is clearly a child that has been taught what to do in such a situation.
I've heard it said that you can still use your cutsie names, as long as your child knows the appropriate names. For me, I only teach my son the proper names. This would be my recommendation to all parents but, please, if you choose a cutsie name... do not use food!
No one can touch her private parts.
This is not a one and done type of a thing, either. Make it a habit to regularly tell your child that no one may touch their private parts (or what many call the "bathing suit area"). When my son was a baby, I got in the habit of telling him that no one is allowed to touch his penis. I now tell him several times a week and ask him from time to time who is allowed to touch his private parts.
He should not touch anyone else's private parts.
Not all perpetrators are interested in touching, some just want to be touched. It is very important that your child knows not to touch other people's private parts. We cover this routinely as well!
No one should see him naked.
It may seem like an easy one but toddlers sure do love to be naked! I am a single mom, and sometimes require the help of my mom to bathe my son or help him go potty. She is the only one other than myself that is allowed to see my son naked and my son knows this. If he happens to be running around the house naked (because I'm too tired to chase him down), I will immediately take him to the room to get dressed, should someone stop by.
In order for your toddler to take this seriously, you need to, too!
Do not let anyone take pictures of her private parts.
This one is frequently missed but it's extremely important in today's society. No one should be taking pictures of your toddler's private parts.
Greet people with high fives.
90% of child abuse victims know their perpetrators. (source) This means that they are likely used to some form of physical touch with this person which makes it all the more important to teach kids about appropriate touching, beyond not touching private parts.
My son is very affectionate and hugs all of our family members. I have had to teach him to give high fives and that, even with family members that he normally hugs, he does not have to if he doesn't want to. I have also gotten into the habit of not telling him to hug anyone, including my family. Basically, hugging is on his terms and high fives should be the norm. I even have caught myself demanding hugs from time to time and have had to make a conscious effort not to do this.
Of course, this doesn't mean I allow him to be rude and dismiss greeting people but I want him to know that he does not have to engage in any form of physical touch that makes him feel uncomfortable.
Help your toddler identify safe people.
Often times children feel more comfortable going to someone other than a parent when they have been a victim of sexual abuse. While making a list of safe adults is a little advanced for toddlers, it's not too early to start having conversations about the people they feel safe with.
Tell your child what to do if someone touches, asks to be touched or takes pictures of her private parts.
No parent wants to think about this but even with our best efforts, it could happen. As a mom, I want to do everything in my power not just to prevent it but to empower my son, even as a toddler to tell someone. My son is frequently reminded that if someone tries to (or does) touch him inappropriately, asks him to touch them or takes pictures of him that he can tell me and I will take care of it.
So, what if you have friends or family that are uncomfortable with the way you teach your child?
We have had two incidents, so far, when my son has used his body safety knowledge with my mom. I know it was embarrassing to her, and I can understand, but I care more about my son's empowerment to keep himself safe than I do about offending her. I know it sounds harsh but it's true and I know my mom would agree... as much as she hates to hear the word "penis" from a toddler, especially when the statement "you can't touch my penis" is directed at her.
But, at the end of the day, no one's discomfort trumps my son's body safety empowerment.
The most important thing to remember when discussing body safety with your toddler is to make it normal, not awkward. One way to do this is to include books that cover the subject of body safety in your child's library. Below are a couple of books that I recommend.
You can purchase them now through my affiliate links on Amazon!
(I may receive a small commission, please see my disclosure for more information)