Because your child is so innocent and still learning about the world, she has no clue what safe and unsafe touches are, so spell it out for her: “A safe touch is a way people show they care for each other. That means hugging, kissing, and helping each other. It’s like when Grandma brushes your hair, or I wash your body when you take a bath. An unsafe touch is the kind you don’t want because it makes you feel scared or yucky and you want it to stop right away, like if someone tickled you too much or tried to touch your private parts.”
Reassure her that most touches are safe touches that feel good, but that if a safe touch that starts out feeling good begins to feel bad, she can always tell the person to stop by saying, “No! I don’t like that. Stop!” Remind her that it’s a family rule that no one is allowed to touch her private parts (except for her parents and the doctor, as needed).
Safe vs Unsafe People
Ask your youngster what a “bad guy” looks like and he’ll probably describe an evil-looking villain straight out of the cartoons or superhero movies. Funny, but not helpful. He needs to know that unsafe people don’t always look like “bad” people. As you’ve already learned, over 90 percent of the time, the bad guys are someone your child knows and maybe even loves.
Define “safe” and “unsafe” this way to your child: “A ‘safe’ person is someone who cares about you and doesn’t try to hurt or scare you. An ‘unsafe” person is someone who tries to touch your private parts or hurt you or try to take you away. You can’t always tell who’s safe and unsafe just by looking at them. You have to watch them to see how they act and how they make you feel inside when you’re with them. They may look nice, but if they try to make you do something that makes you uncomfortable, they aren’t a safe person.”
Kids need to have a circle of safe people they can go to if something bad happens or they need to talk because they have a secret or something inappropriate happened. Say this: “A safe person helps you when you have a problem that’s too big for you to take care of on your own. You can go to this person to tell them if someone made you uncomfortable or afraid. Let’s make a list of safe people you can go to.”
Help your child list two people in the home (parents, older siblings, live-in relatives, etc.) and three people outside the home (grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.) who meet the following criteria: They’re someone who listens well, your child trusts them and feels comfortable with them, and they’re old enough to help your child (over 16 and able to drive a car, in the event they need to pick up your child and take him to safety).
Say, “If you don’t feel comfortable talking to me about something, who else can you talk to?” or “What if something happens at daycare, the park, or church, who could you talk to?”
In Body Safety Education: A Parents’ Guide to Protecting Kids from Sexual Abuse, author Jayneen Sanders suggest drawing an outline on paper of your child’s hand and labeling each digit with the name of one of their safe people. Have him color a picture of each person or paste a photo of them on the paper. If he wants to add someone to the picture who can’t physically intervene in the moment, like God or Jesus or his favorite stuffed animal, have him add them to the palm of the drawing. Keep the picture in a prominent place where he’ll see it often.
Clearly defining safe versus unsafe people for your child and encouraging him to come to you if someone feels unsafe to him teaches him to use and trust his intuition and set and defend his boundaries—all great and essential behaviors.
Be the parent your child deserves!
the Badass Grandma
About CJ Scarlet
CJ Scarlet, aka the “Badass Grandma,” is a danger expert, victim advocate, and crime survivor herself. Most importantly, Scarlet is the doting grandma of three precocious toddlers. CJ has given speeches and workshops at national and international events; and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including MSNBC and NPR.
The former U.S. Marine photojournalist and forest firefighter holds an interdisciplinary master’s degree in Humanities with an emphasis on human violence from Old Dominion University. Named one of the “Happy 100” people on the planet, CJ’s story of triumph over adversity is featured in two bestselling books, including Happy for No Reason and Be Invincible.