For most parents and caregivers, the thought of having “the talk” with their child is nerve racking at best. The explanation of private body parts, what puberty is, or “the birds and the bees” is a conversation many try to avoid for as long as possible.

The reality is, however, that the silence fostered by avoiding these conversations is a sexual predator’s best friend. By not frequently discussing these things with our children, we are instilling in them the message that it is not okay to talk about their private parts or what may happen to them. This opens the door for predators to have inappropriate sexual relationships with children, without the fear of the child telling anyone else about it. There are many small conversations that you can have with your child to help make a big impact on their future.

It is best to start these conversations as young as possible, making the child feel comfortable and confident in discussing their body with you throughout their development. Let your child know that they are able to come to you for help or advice, and that they should never feel afraid or embarrassed to tell you the truth.

Teach children the proper names for all of their body parts, and teach them what body parts are considered “private” or unsafe for others to touch or look at. Do not use slang terms for private parts, as this can reinforce the message that they shouldn’t be talked about. Further, should someone ever act inappropriately with their private parts, it is best for them to be able to describe what happened to them using the accurate terms.

Discuss the difference between good and bad secrets – letting your child know that bad secrets include anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or involves their private areas. Teach them that it is okay not listen to an adult when they are asking them to keep a secret that is uncomfortable or unsafe.

Teach children that they have control over their own bodies. This could mean that your child might not hug everyone goodbye, but instead offers them a high-five or a handshake instead. Let them know that they have the right to make those decisions, even with close friends and family members.

Determine a safety network with your child. This network should include people that the child can talk to if they need help in any situation. (ie: mom, dad, aunt, teacher, school counselor, etc.). Review this safety network frequently, allowing the child to add or remove members as they see fit.

Establish a safety plan for your child to use should they find themselves in an unsafe situation. This plan will look different for each child depending on their age. For example, a young child’s safety plan may include not talking to strangers or saying “No” assertively. An older child’s safety plan may include the use of their cellphone to text or call for help. Whatever plan you establish for your children, it is important to let them know that they will never get in trouble for utilizing it.

By having these conversations with your children early and frequently, you are helping to protect them and support them throughout their development. Avoidance of these topics only benefits the predators, creating a dangerous silence in which they can exist.

SafeCenter is a nonprofit agency whose vision is for all individuals to experience the right to be free from violence. Their mission is to build comprehensive and sustainable community strategies to eliminate domestic and sexual violence in Clinton and Shiawassee Counties. For more information regarding services, contact SafeCenter at (877) 952-7283 or via email at safecenter@thesafecenter.org.

Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

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