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Protect your children from abuse by teaching them what they need to know in ways that are positive and empower them to take charge of their safety.

To prevent sexual abuse, protect your children by staying in charge of who is with them, where they are, and what they are doing –  and empower kids by teaching them skills. These recommendations from The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults and Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels can help keep young people safe from sexual abuse most of the time. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can:

1. Teach children to be clear and persistent in setting boundaries and in asking for help.

Children who can set clear, strong boundaries and who know how to get help are more likely to be safe in their relationships. Help children practice moving your hand away and saying, “Please stop.” Learning to set boundaries with simple safe touch such as to a shoulder or hand can prepare children to set boundaries with more dangerous kinds of touch. Have them practice interrupting a busy adult and saying, “I need help.”

2. Respect children’s boundaries in play, teasing, and affection.

If their responsible adults respect a child’s boundaries, the child can be more likely to notice and to tell when other people do not listen. In everyday life, insist that people pay attention and stop when kids show or say that they don’t want hugs, kisses, tickling, roughhousing, pats, jokes, chasing games, or other kinds of touch or play for fun or affection.

3. Teach children that touch, problems, games, and presents should never be secrets and that it is never too late to tell.

Tell children that anything that bothers them should not have to be a secret. Touch should not be a secret. Games should not be a secret. Gifts that someone gives them or favors someone does for them should not be a secret. Getting a shot at the doctor is not a secret. Getting a cavity filled is not a secret. Hugging, kissing, roughhousing, tickling, tagging, and hide and seek should not be secret. Tell children that it is never too late to tell. To open up the lines of communication for conversations and questions with kids, occasionally ask in a calm matter-of-fact voice, “Is there anything you’ve been wondering or worrying about that you haven’t told me?”

4. Teach children that touch for play, teasing, or affection needs to be safe.

Help them imagine that a friend is being too rough or trying to play in some other way that they think is not safe. Help them practice saying “Stop,” leaving, and getting help.

5. Encourage children to talk about touch they do not like.

Many kinds of touch for health and safety can be painful, uncomfortable, or make children feel upset. Encourage children to talk about their feelings and then say, “Thank you for telling me! Touch for health and safety is not a choice, but any kind of touch should never be a secret.”

6. Teach safety skills without telling scary or detailed stories about abuse.

Just as schools have children practice fire drills without using scary details about what happens in real fires, adults can focus on practicing skills to prevent abuse instead of focusing on abuse itself. Here’s how Kidpower explains the general safety rules about touching private areas, “Private areas are the parts of your body covered by a bathing suit. The safety rule is that for play or teasing other people should not touch your private areas and they should not ask you to touch their private areas. Even when those parts of your body have to be touched for health or safety, this is never a secret. Also, people should not show you pictures on the internet or anywhere else about people showing their private areas. If this happens, your safety plan is to tell the person to stop and to come and tell me or another adult you trust as quickly as you can.”

7. Teach children the real names for body parts.

Using the many types of nicknames like flower, pee pee, or cookie for our private parts often begins with our own discomfort with using correct terminology. Clearly we don’t use these types of terms for other body parts like our ears, toes, or nose. Correct names for all body parts, rather than slang terms, can help children develop a healthier body image rather than seeing parts of our bodies as bad or something we can’t talk about. Also, correct terms can help with communication if someone were to break the safety rules.

8. Teach children to get help even if someone they care about might be upset or embarrassed.

Most child molestation is done by someone who has developed a relationship with a child, but telling children that the person most likely to harm them is someone they love and trust is not emotionally safe. At Kidpower, we tell children, “Sometimes the people children love have problems and sometimes their problems are so big that they might do things to hurt children. If that happens to you or someone you know, this does not mean that anyone is bad. It just means that people have problems and that they broke the safety rules. The way to get help with problems it to tell an adult you trust and to keep telling until someone does something to make the problem stop.”

9. Make sure that the people caring for your children are trustworthy.

Many child molesters act charming and kind to win the trust of kids and their adults. They come from all walks of life and are often in positions of authority with children and teens. Don’t automatically trust someone just because they are famous or have an excellent reputation with your school, organization, sports team, place of worship, family, or friends. Check out people’s references but don’t rely on them alone. Make sure that places where you leave your kids routinely background check their staff. Trust your intuition if something feels uncomfortable to you. Don’t leave your kids with someone: who seems to single out certain children or teens for special attention and private relationships; who seeks social and recreational opportunities to be alone with kids without other adults there; or who does not ensure that parents and other responsible adults are kept fully informed about activities.

10. Take action if you are worried about possible abuse.

If you notice or learn about potentially abusive behavior, don’t wait and wish that the problem will go away. Speak up and put a stop to suggestive or selective behavior that might lead to unsafe situations. If you are concerned about possible child abuse, get help! In the US, you can talk anonymously with a counselor from the ChildHelp hotline at 1-800-422-4453. Many other countries have similar hotlines. Remember that children might not tell about problems because they don’t want to upset someone, get in trouble, lose an important relationship, or risk harm to their family. Report abuse to authorities and make sure they take action. Follow Kidpower’s Founding ‘ Put Safety First’ Principle: “The safety and well being of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.”

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Published: March 9, 2012   |   Last Updated: March 11, 2019

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.