Daily rise in incidents of child abuse is storming Pakistani media today. We as parents are doing everything in our reach to keep our children safe. We can control their commute, exposure to outside world, teaching them physical defense strategies and bunch of other things. However, when it comes to communication with children, Pakistani parents lag behind critically due to the stigma attached with topic. We are in fact, doing a great disservice to our children. Conversation regarding body safety rules for children might sound intimidating, uncomfortable and scary. However, it is crucial given the fact that most abuse cases are caused within the families.
Why are Body Safety Rules so important for Children?
As soon as our children begin their exposure to outer world, we become concerned about their safety. We teach them about safety on roads, schools, malls/markets, electricity devices, vehicles etc. However, we are too shy to discuss their body safety rules. This makes them unaware, uninformed and even scared of sharing any unfortunate event that might take place in schools, parks, at friends’ place or even in their own houses.
A comprehensive report by Sahil, an NGO in Pakistan, found that child abuse cases increased by 33% in 2018. The report also found that more than 80% of perpetrators being family members or someone that child knew. Parents should understand that it is important for children to understand the concept of body safety and be prepared to protect themselves.
This articles highlights 8 important body safety rules that parents need to communicate with their children. It also gives tips on how to teach them to defend themselves when these rules are violated. It is important to understand that these rules should be taught to children as early as 4-5 years of age. This age is the beginning of their independence from parents and increased interaction with teenagers and adults in different circles.
8 Body Safety Rules for Children
1. Always know the proper names for body parts
This rules begins as soon as children start to talk. Teach them proper name of each body part including face, lips, tongue, genital areas, etc. Teaching children proper names for body parts can help them understand each part. It also helps in identifying whether or not that part is ‘private part’. By using real names for each body part, in case of any abuse, the child can clearly state which part he/she was touched upon. This avoid confusion or allowing the perpetrator to cover up his act.
2. Give your children confidence that only THEY are the Boss of their body!
It is a common observation in Pakistani culture that, during gatherings, elder family members and friends try to forcibly hug or kiss a child or make them sit close. It is unfortunate that most parents, under social pressure, instead of allowing the kid to decide what he wants, reprimands them in front of others to obey. Such actions affects the confidence of children over their emotions and bodies. Also, in future it can make them submissive to ill-intentioned perpetrators. Moreover, they lose confidence in gaining any support from their safety net circle and have fear of getting condemned. The safety net circle includes mothers, fathers, grandparents and other elders.
Teach them from the beginning to say ‘No’ when they are uncomfortable with anyone trying to force a loving gestures that involves touching their bodies in anyway. More importantly, respect their choice over their bodies no matter what your judgment of other person is.
3. Teach them clearly about private parts of body
Children should be taught from early age which parts of body are private parts. The bathing suit example is a great way to make children understand private parts. Parents can show children how parts that are covered by standard swim suits are private parts. These include chest, genital areas and buttocks along with lips. Parents need to explain to children that no one is allowed to touch those parts under any circumstances. Also teach them that if someone asks them to touch their private parts, they are not allowed to do it. In case of any such instance, children should immediately tell their parents or any other trusted person like teacher, grandparents, aunt or elder sibling.
It is also important to explain to your child different circumstances under which parents or doctors are allowed to touch them on private parts. For instance, parents can help in shower, changing clothes or helping with some pain or wound while doctors can do that for checkup as long as parents are in the same room.
4. Teach them about Good Touch and Bad Touch
Once children are aware of their private parts, teach them about what ‘Good Touch’ is and what ‘Bad Touch’ is. Bad touch is not limited to private parts so children need to know how to identify it. Give examples from various scenarios to help them understand. For instance, if they are lovingly hugging their parents or grandparents or other relative, it is a good touch. If someone is playing wrestling with them or tickling them, it is only good touch as long as the child is comfortable with it. If the child becomes uncomfortable and asks the other person to stop, they should respect his decision. However, if they don’t, and the child is uncomfortable, they can refer to it as bad touch.
Similarly, a random pat on the back is fine. However, if the other person keeps rubbing their backs or thighs and it is making the child uncomfortable, children should stop them immediately or else tell the parents or someone they trust.
5. Talk about Early Warning Signs
The concept of body safety is not easy to understand for an adult, let alone a child. To make them understand better, discuss with them different body reactions that may be a sign of them becoming uncomfortable. If anything related to body touch makes them sweat a lot, makes their heart beat faster, get a sick tummy, legs and arms shaky or have goosebumps, it might be a bad touch. Tell your child that if he/she feels this way under any circumstances, they should share that with you or any trusted adult like teacher or aunt. When children are aware of these early warning signs and have discussed these with the parents, they can recognize the sign of abuse earlier and can inform adults.
6. Ask them to Make a Safety Net Circle of Adults
Every child has a circle of adults that they trust with their safety, problems and secrets. Try to verbally tell your child to make a list of adults whom they consider trustworthy. Making a circle of trust can help children with identifying people they can go to if they feel unsafe, sad, scared or violated in any way. The circle of trust can include parents, older siblings, aunt, uncle, teachers, grandparents etc.
7. No Secrets are allowed with Parents!
Children should know that they should not keep secrets from their parents regarding body safety violation, private parts or any suspicious thing that people tell them about. Mostly perpetrators tell children to keep everything they do a secret by either threatening them, tempting them for something they want or simply increasing their curiosity. Explain to them that there should be no secrets among family and friends and especially when they are related to private parts. Also assure your child that you will trust them no matter so they should never be afraid to talk about anything.
8. It is always OK to yell or shout if needed
Once you have established the body safety rules with your children, discuss with them different ways to get out of any uncomfortable situation when needed. Since abuse or manipulation can happen with strangers or family members and friends as well, they should know how to react in different situations. Talk to them about how they can make excuse or take a leave from that place. Tell them it is okay to yell, shout or show anger at the perpetrator for doing something. Make them understand how they should not cover up or keep quiet for any uncomfortable interaction with anyone.