While keeping children safe is ultimately always the responsibility of adults, there are certain skills and knowledge that children can be taught to help protect themselves and communicate effectively when something isn’t right. These include knowing basic body safety, and understanding the principles of boundaries and consent
Basic Body Safety
A child needs to be able to identify and name a penis, vagina, vulva, and anus much the same way they identify an elbow, foot or neck. This knowledge is critical in giving children the tools to understand and communicate about healthy vs. unhealthy touch, and to let a safe, protective adult know when something doesn’t feel right.
Other body safety rules include identifying with your child 3 “safe adults” in addition to parents who they can come to if they have any concerns or if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, and teaching your child the difference between “surprises” and “secrets” – and that nobody should ever ask them to keep a secret from their parents.
Boundaries and Consent
Feeling a sense of body autonomy can help children set boundaries and understand that they have the right to give, withhold, or withdraw consent.
- Teach children that permission is important. People need to ask for permission when it comes to physical contact.
- Let your child change their mind. They may initially say “yes” in a situation, then say “no”. Accept the change, and teach them to accept if someone else changes their mind too. Consent is not a “forever yes”.
- Allow your child to give physical affection on their own terms. Don’t force them to hug, kiss, or touch anyone for any reason. Offer alternatives, like a high-five, a fist-bump, or a friendly wave.
- Model consent. Let your child see that when someone says “no”, you respect it, and that you expect others to respect when you say “no”.
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