Keeping children safe from sexual abuse is one of the main concerns many parents have. Are you leaving your child alone with the wrong people? Is your child safe amongst friends and family? How will he or she know when abuse is taking place?
A mum recently told the NSPCC how she discovered that her 3-year-old had been sexually abused while trying to teach her the Underwear Rule after watching the campaign.
She was in the process of explaining to the toddler which areas were off-limits to anyone but her when she received the shocking news that a trusted family friend had ‘touched her’ in these areas. Much to the parents alarm, further investigation also revealed that the abuse had happened many times mostly while this family friend pretended to play games such as hide and seek with toddler.
News such as this can be very heartbreaking for parents as they feel they haven’t done enough to protect their child.
Most people find it difficult talking to their children about sexual abuse as it’s such a delicate subject, but help is at hand.
The NSPCC is urging parents to teach children the underwear rule in order to prevent child abuse. Most parents feel comfortable talking to children about simple things like how to cross the road, not to talk to strangers and how to behave in public, but talking about the dangers of child abuse puts parents out of their depths, not because they don’t want to talk about it, but because they feel awkward talking about the issue.
The NSPCC aims to help children remember the Underwear Rule, to do this, they are trying to get every parent talking PANTS.
Privates are private
Be clear with your child that the parts of their body covered by underwear are private.
Explain to your child that no one should ask to see or touch their private parts or ask them to look at or touch anyone else’s.
Sometimes doctors, nurses or family members might have to. Explain that this is OK, but that those people should always explain why, and ask your child if it’s OK first.
Always remember your body belongs to you
Let your child know their body belongs to them, and no one else.
No one has the right to make them do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. And if anyone tries, tell your child they have the right to say no.
Remind your child that they can always talk to you about anything which worries or upsets them.
This guide will help you get the conversation started without even making reference to ‘sexual abuse’. You decide when and where to have the conversation as you are the only one who knows your child best, but it is essential that you do have this conversation with your child to protect them against abuse.
No means no
Make sure your child understands that they have the right to say “no” to unwanted touch – even to a family member or someone they know or love.
This shows that they’re in control of their body and their feelings should be respected.
If a child feels confident to say no to their own family, they are more likely to say no to others.
Talk about secrets that upset you
Explain the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets.
Phrases like “it’s our little secret” are an abuser’s way of making a child feel worried, or scared to tell someone what is happening to them.
- Good secrets can be things like surprise parties or presents for other people.
- Bad secrets make you feel sad, worried or frightened.
Your child needs to feel able to speak up about secrets that worry them and confident that saying something won’t get them into trouble.
Telling a secret will never hurt or worry anybody in your family or someone you know and love.
Speak up, someone can help
Tell your child that if they ever feel sad, anxious or frightened they should talk to an adult they trust.
This doesn’t have to be a family member. It can also be a teacher or a friend’s parent – or even ChildLine.
Remind them that whatever the problem, it’s not their fault and they will never get into trouble for speaking up.
Getting the conversation started
Don’t view conversations about staying safe as a one-off. It’s much better to have conversations little and often. This will help you to reinforce the key points, and to adapt the message as your child gets older.
Once you’re ready to talk, you might find your child isn’t. That’s OK. The most important thing is to not force the issue. The last thing you want is for your child to feel it’s a big deal.
Weaving simple conversations about staying safe into the daily routine is a great way to stop it feeling like a lecture. If it feels less weird for your child, it will feel much easier for you too.