Written by Preety Sehgal, Group Development Manager and Kim Bone, Group Curriculum Manager, Chrysalis Group of Early Learning Centres
From the day a child is born, to their days in early childhood education, all the way to the moment they step out of our doors, we strive to keep them safe. As parents we place cushions around the bed so to prevent them from falling, provide helmets while they learn to ride bikes and teach them how to be safe on the road. We teach our children the skills to be safe at all times and in all places.
But have you thought about the importance of teaching children about body safety? It surely is a confronting topic that you may delay in discussing with your child until you feel that they are old enough and can understand it. People might put this issue in the ‘too hard basket’, and if a situation does not present itself, we leave it well alone. We all wish for these things to never happen to our children, but the reality of child abuse is not as accommodating.
The Statistics of Child Abuse
Looking at New Zealand’s shocking abuse statistics; children under the age of 5 years are most vulnerable to abuse, including sexual abuse. The NZ organisation Child Matters has released statistics that a child dies on average every five weeks in NZ, most of them under 5 years of age. Furthermore, in 2017, more than 10,000 Kiwi children were recorded as being abused – something the Children’s Commissioner has labelled as New Zealand’s “enduring shame”.
Research also states that most children are abused by a person that they know, and sadly, it is common for this to be an older child. Only about 10% of recorded cases are attributable by strangers. “Stranger danger” is taught by parents and teachers all throughout children’s lives, and it has had great effects. This can apply just as well to body safety.
So, how can we teach our young children to keep themselves safe?
What You Can Do to Teach Children About Body Safety
Body Parts Are Not Taboo, But They Are Private
It is essential that children learn this as soon as they learn to communicate. At our daycares we use the correct names for body parts, and teach them that these are private areas. You can begin as early as when you are changing your child’s nappy – talk to them about body parts and help them to understand that they are private.
By using the correct names, this helps teachers, parents and adults whom children confide in to understand what they’re talking about so that they can provide immediate support. It also helps to de-mystify those parts for children, so that they are not afraid to seek help should they need it.
They Are The Bosses of Their Bodies
Reinforce to your child that they are the ‘boss of their body’, and they do not have to kiss or hug a person if they don’t want to. Explain that we all have a ‘body boundary’ – imagery often helps with explaining concepts like this to children. Their ‘body boundary’ is an invisible space that surrounds their – and everyone else’s – body, and no one can enter another person’s boundary unless they allow it.
Reinforce this concept by adhering to it yourself – if your child tells you that they don’t want to be touched, and it is not a safety issue, immediately relinquish your hold to demonstrate that people should respect the boundaries they lay down.
Good Touch vs. Bad Touch
Children need to know what getting too close means. Teach them to say “STOP” loudly if they feel someone is getting too close and they feel uncomfortable. Conversely, teach them to respect other people’s boundaries and spaces. Talk to them about the differences between good touch, bad touch and also a secret touch. Children will begin to understand that hitting and pushing can be a bad touch, whereas cuddling grandma or supervised doctor check-ups will be seen as a good touch.
But the awareness of secret touch (i.e. touching around the genital area), can keep them safe and allow them to be confident about the difference. Explain to children that it is not okay for someone to take photos of them in private, nor is it okay for someone to make them uncomfortable with touching and then tell them to “keep it a secret”.
Talking About Feelings
Children learn about their feelings at an early age. They understand happy, sad, angry and scared emotions, and they instinctually know how to communicate those feelings in a raw way. Introducing the concept of emotions to children early on can help support how they feel and giving them an accessible way to communicate these feelings to adults will help them feel safe.
Similarly, when talking about inappropriate touch, speak to children about feelings like being scared or uncomfortable. Help them to associate these feelings with a situation that is wrong or bad, and give them avenues for resolving the situation.
Have a Bodyguard
Your child should know which people in their family are ‘safe people’ or ‘bodyguards’ that they can go to talk to. Remind them to seek them out and be comfortable to verbalise if they feel scared or uncomfortable around someone. Reinforce to your children that they have ‘bodyguards’ that are there to protect them and validate their concerns. This is why it is important to help children notice and associate negative feelings with an unsafe situation, as understanding the meaning of safe and unsafe is crucial for them.
Empower Your Child
Reinforce that you love your child and that you will listen to them and protect them at all times. Listen to what your child is telling you, and try not to put words into their mouths for more clarification, as this could cause confusion. Explain that rules remain the same for friends or family members, and you will support them no matter what. Never let them feel a sense of being “at fault” or “the reason why” this bad event occurred. These feelings of guilt or wrongdoing can be buried deep in one’s mind, taking a lifetime to unravel.
Additionally, make sure to follow through in a way that your child can see. Often, actions speak louder than words, so showing your child that you have taken actions to appropriately punish the perpetrator demonstrates to them that they are being taken seriously.
Talk to your childcare centre manager, head teacher and teachers about it.
Our teachers in Chrysalis, Magic Kingdom, Fern Garden and our newest Gaia (Earth) Preschool NZ are fully aware of our Child Protection Policy at the time of their induction. They are also checked up on during regular reviews of this policy, specifically around the issues of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Teachers operate within the National Code of Ethics, which sets high standards for the teaching profession. Our centres are committed to providing the highest standard of care and protection, and we follow the statement under section 6 of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act (1989). ‘The interest, safety and well-being of children are paramount’.
NZ’s proven statistics about this nationwide problem is too shocking and unbelievable to just simply stand by and not talk about it. By being bold and bringing this important topic out in the open, we hope that parents and families in NZ can feel empowered and supported to be on to it and also know that your teachers are on to it and have a deep awareness and sense of guardianship over your children at all times.
Take the time to learn more with Chrysalis group of early learning centres, and work to create a safe world for our kids.
To know more about our policies and approaches to education and care for your child, please read on to: