April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and a great time for parents, families and caregivers to make certain kids at every age understand personal safety. Since starting the nonprofit Lauren’s Kids to combat the threat of abuse, I’ve learned that abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all faiths and education levels. I was sexually and physically abused for six years before I shared the horror with anyone. But fortunately, I had a support system that empowered me to turn my experience into a mission. The good news? In many cases, child sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness.
I am now a mother of twins. I know that I, like other parents, are the first line of defense to keeping my son and daughter safe. We can teach our children age-appropriate personal safety lessons that come from a place of fun – not fear. This mama bear is making sure her kids are ready to thrive and stay safe. Provide the same support for your children by checking out the tips below.
It’s important to help your child(ren) identify “safe” and “unsafe” situations, people and secrets based on how each these things make them feel.
- Help your child(ren) understand that the area around their body is their own personal space where they feel safe and protected. Ask them to stand up stretch their arms horizontally and image there is a big bubble that starts over their head and reaches to the bottom of their feet; these are the boundaries for their personal space.
- Explain the difference between safe and unsafe touches. A safe touch respects personal boundaries and feels welcomed (hive-five, fist bumps, or hugs – when your child feels comfortable to give them). Safe touches make your child feel happy and are welcomed. An unsafe touch makes someone feel icky, scared or unsafe.
- The same can be said for secrets: safe secrets are those that make your child feel happy, safe, and excited; unsafe secrets make your child feel uncomfortable, confused, sad, or not quite right. If an adult asks a child to keep a secret indefinitely, it is an unsafe secret.
- Help kids identify Grown-Up Buddies, people who are old enough to drive who help a child to be safe. A Grown-Up Buddy is someone your child can confide it whenever they feel uncomfortable – whether it’s a fight with a friend, a bad dream, or a touch that’s not quite right. And, at least one Grown-Up Buddy should be someone outside of your family.
- Empower them to use their “I Mean Business Voice” any time they need to be heard in an uncomfortable situation. Children who are comfortable accessing this voice will respond in a strong authoritative manner to prevent the situation from continuing.
Reinforce the Lessons
As children gain more independence and become more involved in extracurricular activities, it’s important to reinforce the concepts introduced above.
- Educate your child(ren) that their personal space includes the private parts of their body, where they wear a bathing suit and their mouth. Reinforce that these areas belong to them and they should not be touched or seen unless they are hurt or at a doctor’s office.
- Give proper anatomical names for the private parts of your children’s bodies.
- Explain the difference between “reporting” and “tattling.” Reporting is telling a trusted adult about something that involves safety. Tattling is a complaint about someone but isn’t about a safety issue.
- Reinforce that if your son or daughter feels that their body boundaries have been violated to report it to a trusted adult in their Safety NETwork.
Teens in middle school face a major transition from the small, often single class environment to managing more responsibility than elementary school. Peer relationships also become a very significant part of the social network and personal identity.
- Reinforce with teens that added freedom and responsibility could increase their exposure to unsafe situations. Personal devices like cell phones, tablets and computers provide incredible reach. Safe choices extend into the digital world.
- Teach them to be conscious of their surroundings and assess when situations may be unsafe (will adults be there?).
- Remind them that a trusted adult must know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with at all times.
- Use the A.C.T. tools:
o What would he or she Ask to begin the conversation with a friend who may be in an unsafe situation?
o How would they communicate that he or she Cares about the safety and well-being of the friend?
o Reinforce the critical importance of Telling a trusted adult and getting help. Ask your teen what he or she would do if the friend begged your teen not to tell and to keep this unsafe secret?
Teens are on the cusp of adulthood with even more freedom such as owning a car or maintaining a job. Your teen has the right to be safe, no one has the right to abuse them and abuse is never their fault. Teens that are in an unsafe situation have the power to stop the abuse by telling a trusted adult until they are heard and helped. Speaking up is very scary and requires a great deal of courage but they have the power to take action.
- Discuss the steps of S.A.F.E.with your teen:
o Seek Help — victims should seek help, peers can help friends in unsafe situations to get the support they need.
o Trusted Adults – involve trusted adults to help.
o Face your fears — it takes courage to speak up.
o Enact your power play- remind your teen that they have the personal power to take action.
Remember, conversations about safety don’t have to be scary. For more free tips, tools, and safety lessons for families with school-aged children, visit SaferSmarterFamilies.org.
The curriculum was developed by Lauren’s Kids Founder and CEO, Lauren Book, M.S. Ed, and a multidisciplinary team of educators and developmental psychologists to teach children critical personal safety information in a developmentally and age appropriate way. www.LaurensKids.org