As a parent, one of our biggest fears is that our children might one day be exposed to sexual abuse. And statistics are here … the Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18 and that 93% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a trusted family member or friend.
And more often than not, it is another kid!
We have to allow our children to go out into the world and interact with those around them. But we can arm them with knowledge that might save them from being victimized. We don’t want to scare them, yet we must prepare them. So how do we help our children understand the limits of what is acceptable and what is not in an age-appropriate way?
- Don’t force hugs and kisses. If your child is not willing to give a hug or a kiss to you or any other person, suggest they can still say “hi” politely or give a high five.
- Sexual abuse and sex are a little intertwined. Children learn about sex in the way they’re touched, caressed, cuddled and cared for as infants but also as witnesses of what they parents and family members do and say around sex.
- Talking about sex needs to begin early, and should be a continual process, not a one-time event. You won’t destroy their innocence by sharing with them the amazing story about how they were born.
- In our media-driven highly sexualized culture it’s more important than ever for parents to be attentive to what their children may be taking in and put age-appropriate controls in place to protect their children from inaccurate or inappropriate information.
- Teach them how to name all their body parts. Not just head, shoulder, knee and toe but also penis, vagina and bottom. Experts say that children who are confident by naming the private parts of their body will be more likely to tell if something happens.
- Encourage them to wash and wipe themselves so they can learn autonomy and feel in control of their own body.
- Repeat regularly to them “your body is your own”.
- If you still need to wash your toddler or help them in the toilets, ask consent so they understand that others needs to ask consent before touching them.
- Explain that they can reply ‘no’ to adults and leave the room if they don’t like the game the adult is playing with them.
- Explain that mommy and daddy can see them naked, but people outside of the home should only see them with their clothes on. Explain that doctors can see them without their clothes only because mommy and daddy are there with them and the doctor is checking their body.
- Children also need to learn that they can’t touch other people’s private parts either, so they know what is and what isn’t acceptable when playing and that no one should ask them to touch somebody else’s private parts.
- Help your children express their feelings and worries is a great life skill in general but will also help them explain to you what is happening if they were in a situation of abuse.
- Identify with your child 5 adults he/she can trust. Anyone the child has regular contact with who could help them if they need it. You can ask your child something like “who can you ask for help if you fall over and hurt yourself” to help them know who they could turn to if anything was to happen.
- Tell your child that no matter what anyone tells them, body secrets are not okay and they should always tell you if someone tries to make them keep a body secret.
- Explain that no matter what happens, when they tell you anything about body secrets they will NEVER get in trouble.
- Don’t shut them down if they ask ’embarrassing ‘ questions, even in public. If you do, it will give them a clear message that it is not ok to talk to you about those things.
- If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour, sleeping habits, eating, toileting, … try to find out if something is bothering them. It does not mean it is related to abuse but it can reflect other issues. If you cannot get your child to open up to you, go and see a therapist or psychologist specialised in children.
- One discussion is not enough. Find natural times to reiterate these messages, such as bath time or when they are running around naked.
Safe 4 Kids is an Australian company which specialises in child protection education, protective behaviours, and body safety. They offer a variety of education resources for parents or teachers such as books, games and also online training. More on
- Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins
- My Body Belongs to Me by Prosecuting Attorney Jill Starishevsky
- No Means No, by Jayneen Sanders
- Everyone’s got a bottom, by Tess Rowley