Personal Safety: Where to Begin and What to Discuss?

  • Beginning the discussion: Approximately 4 to 7 years of age

    • Teach children to start to take ownership over their bodies:
      • Encourage children to begin to dress themselves;
      • With supervision, have children begin to bathe and wash themselves; and,
      • Introduce privacy to children and encourage them to use it when using the toilet.
    • Teach children how to be assertive. Create opportunities for them to practice matching their body language with strong verbal messages that demonstrate they mean business ("NO!", "Stop!","I don't like that!", etc.).
    • Foster self-awareness around children’s rights to make decisions about touching. If a child is reluctant to express affection, do not force it. Remember that teaching respect does not mean teaching obedience. Respect children's decisions to avoid physical affection, such as hugging.
    • Teach children the correct names of body parts.
    • Teach children that their private parts, the areas covered by their bathing suit, belong to them and shouldn't be touched by others (present exceptions such as times when they are hurt or sick and they need help from a doctor or parents/guardian, etc.).
    • Teach children to tell you if a person:
      • asks to touch their private parts or asks them to touch another person's private parts;
      • wants to look at their private parts or asks them to look at another person's private parts;
      • wants to take naked pictures of them or shows them naked pictures of others;
      • tells them sexual jokes or talks to them about sex;
      • wants to bathe them and/or washes their private areas; and,
      • does anything that causes them to feel scared, hurt, sad, or uncomfortable.
    • Explain the difference between secrets that are okay to keep and secrets that need to be told to a safe adult. Explain that any secrets about touching or secrets about picture taking should be told to a safe adult. Read Teatree's Keep and Speak Secrets.
    • Teach children how to label and express their feelings (e.g. happy, sad, mad, scared, mixed-up).
    • Help children identify safe adults in their lives who they can turn to for help.
  • Continuing the discussion: (Approximately 8 to 11 years of age)

    • Teach children the difference between public and private behaviour.
    • Discuss the importance of privacy tied to changing, bathing and going to the bathroom. It is common for children of this age to begin seeking some privacy.
    • Set limits with regard to what information children are exposed to, such as adult subject matters. Although children are interested in adult information, they do not have the knowledge or experience to handle it.
    • Have children practice assertive behaviour. Create opportunities for children to engage in 'what if' situations where they need be assertive with someone, including with adults they do and do not know. Have them practice being assertive by using their voice and body to send a message that shows they mean business.
    • Talk to children about how difficult it can be to be assertive with an adult they know. Knowing that being direct and shouting “no” is not very realistic in this context, reinforce that it is never okay for an adult, including those known to the child, to behave in a way that makes her/him uncomfortable. Reassure children that it is never their fault and encourage them to tell you or another safe adult if this happens.
    • Discuss with children what friendship is and what it isn't. Individuals who are a risk to sexually abuse a child may use the idea of friendship to manipulate the child’s perceptions. This may desensitize the child to inappropriate behavior and increase their risk of victimization.
    • Encourage children to identify and label their feelings. This will promote self-monitoring and increase self-awareness.
    • Explain the difference between secrets that are okay to keep and secrets that need to be told to a safe adult. Explain that any secrets about touching or secrets about picture taking should be told to a safe adult.
    • Have children identify safe adults within the family, at school, and in the neighbourhood.
    • Discuss healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and the importance of adults respecting and maintaining appropriate boundaries with children. An adult's role is to protect children, not to be friends with and confide in children.
    • Explain that sexual attention from an adult is never okay. It is important to explain that when an experience like this happens to a child, it is never the child’s fault. Under all circumstances, it is always an adult’s responsibility to interact appropriately with children.
    • Continue setting limits with regard to what information children are privy to (e.g. adult conversations, television, music, Internet, games). Strengthening appropriate boundaries between adults and children increases their personal safety.