Inappropriate Touch: Keeping Our Kids Safe
With the news flooded with stories about Penn State’ Jerry Sandusky and the teachers at Horace Mann, we know that educating our children about how to protect themselves from sexual predators has to begin early. Here, Chicago-based social worker Michelle Siegman shows us how to get started.
~By Michelle Siegman, MSW, LCSW
Your son was caught touching a classmate inappropriately at preschool. What do you do? Your daughter was showing off her private parts to her friend, and her friend did the same. Now what? Worst and most unimaginable of all, your daughter tells you that Uncle B told her to take a shower with him. Where do you turn?
The first two examples are quite common, and the last one is not. Either way, one or all of these situations may happen to your kids. Let’s take a look at each and talk about how you as the parent can respond.
Children are naturally curious creatures, and wanting to explore each other’s bodies is not uncommon. If you discover that your child is “playing doctor” with a friend or is actively curious about the differences between his or her body and someone else’s, calmly explain that your child’s hands should remain to themselves and that everyone’s clothes should stay on.
Should this happen repeatedly, this is a great time to have an honest talk about private parts. Tell your child that bodies are not for others to touch or see. The exception to this rule solely includes medical professionals, a parent who is washing or changing a child, or a caretaker, for the sole purpose of changing clothes and diapers or assisting in the bathroom. A child is never too young to hear the safety guidelines for appropriate versus inappropriate touching.
A great place to begin is to go over all of a child’s body parts, which you can make into a game. Where is your head? Can I touch your head? Where is your cute little foot? Can Aunt C touch your foot? What part of your body does your bathing suit cover? What part does your underwear cover? Can anyone touch those parts? This type of exercise offers an innocent, stress-free way of teaching your children the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching.
I encourage moms and dads to introduce the technical names for “private parts.” It is important that kids know the words “vagina” and “penis,” which are not embarrassing to them at a very young age, because they are only words, no different than “nose” or “toe.”
At this point, you should also let your child know in a gentle, nonthreatening voice that he or she should tell you if anyone tries to or does in fact touch him or her in an inappropriate place. If you explain to your child that nobody is to touch his penis or her vagina, your child will recognize inappropriate advances and know what to do in case this occurs. In a situation like the one with the uncle, the parents must intervene immediately, with a heightened level of emotion and action.
Parents should demonstrate empathy and strength toward a child opening up about inappropriate touching. They should let their child know how important, if also scary, it is for them to share such details. Then parents should contact the police, report the criminal action, and let the authorities guide them through the rest of the process. First and foremost, support your child, who will need your love and words of encouragement to get through this trying time and not feel guilty, as so many victims of sexual assault do, especially when it involves a familiar person.
If you begin conversations, preferably in a light-hearted manner, about touching early on in your child’s life, you can save yourself and your child heartache and trauma later. I often suggest that parents, teachers, and caregivers use books to guide them and ease their nerves about sharing this important information. Following are several resources for how to teach your child about appropriate and inappropriate touching.
Preschool to Grade 2
“Your Body Belongs to You” by Cornelia Maude Spelman
“My Body Belongs to Me” by Jill Starishevsky
Age 4 and Up
“Some Parts Are Not for Sharing” by Julie K. Federico
“I Said No!” by Kimberly King
“It’s My Body” by Lory Britain
Trust your instincts about who your child is alone with and never forget to reiterate that your child should always come to you if he or she is uncomfortable about another child or adult.
About Michelle Siegman
Michelle is a Chicago-based Licensed Clinical Therapist with expertise in the areas of building social skills, bullying prevention, and implementing behavioral plans. Her eight years in the school system have provided her with an inside track and unique perspective of the academic environment. You can contact Michelle directly at (312) 259-5844.
The pic comes from We Do It All for Kids.