Have these conversations with your child to help keep them safe

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I'm really glad that you opened this blog post because this is a really important one that is going to give you information and advice on how to have difficult conversations with your child when it comes to keeping them safe.

One of the most asked questions I get is at what age should we start having conversations with our kids around body autonomy and consent. My answer is the sooner the better. These conversations need to be ongoing and will change and adapt as your child develops and ages to keep it appropriate for their current stage and capability to understand. This advice may also look different for children who have experienced trauma or are neurodivergent so please speak with a professional if you are wanting additional support.

You can watch my video on TikTok here about why we are no longer using 'stranger danger'.

'Tricky People' by Crystal Hardstaff from The Gentle Counsellor is a children's book for parents and caregivers to read to their children about consent, body autonomy, what is and is not ok, the warning signs, who are safe people, and how to listen to their instincts when something or someone doesn't feel right. Stranger Danger is an old and outdated concept, and using the language of Tricky People helps empower and protect children.

Here is some brief information on how you can get started with these conversations and the particular focus points for these developmental ages and stages of your child's life. Start at the beginning of this list to see if there may be missed conversations to catch up on now. This is not a comprehensive list, but a good starting point.

Infant (0-2 years)

  • Teaching proper names for body parts and private parts. Use books or appropriate times for discussions such as when getting dressed, toileting, or bathing. Include the function of body parts.
  • Telling your child what you are doing i.e. 'I am using this wipe to clean your bottom'.
  • Your main job as the parent here is to keep their body safe for them and set them up to do this for themselves.
  • Read children's books on this topic. I have a blog post here with some of my favourites.

Early childhood (3-5 years)

  • Using language such as, Your body, your choice. My body, my choice. Apply this in everyday situations where relevant, for example, 'Please do not sit on me. Remember this is my body and my choice. You may sit here next to me' or 'They said stop tickling them. You need to listen the first time they say stop because it is their body and their choice.'
  • Talk about where it is ok and is not ok for people to touch them, and that it is not ok for someone to show thetheir private parts or ask them to touch their private parts - this includes any age and any person.
  • Support your child's autonomy if family members try to force affection when your child does not want it, i.e. hugs or kisses.
  • Explaining the importance of taking care of our bodies i.e. hygiene. This includes how the job as a parent or medical professional is to help teach them how or do this for them sometimes.

School-age (6-10 years)

  • The importance of asking permission and receiving consent to touch people i.e. ask before giving their friends a hug.
  • Revisit where it is not ok for people to touch them and that it is not ok for someone to show thetheir private parts or videos of private parts, or ask them to touch their private parts.
  • Discuss who is a safe person to talk to if they need help.
  • Family rule of no secrets, and assurance they can tell you anything. Tell them that they are allowed to ask questions and you will answer honestly.

Adolescent (10-17 years)

  • Information on puberty that includes all sexes, not just theirs.
  • Not shaming their urges. You can acknowledge that certain things feel good and discuss the importance of cleanliness, privacy, age appropriateness, and the law.
  • Conversations around relationships and expand on the idea of safe people. Discuss what healthy and respectful relationships do and don't look, feel or sound like.
  • Facts on practising safe sex, the reasons why, and providing information and access to methods of contraception.
  • Tell them that they are allowed to ask questions and you will answer honestly.

*This section is a large age group because of the range of differences we see in children experiencing puberty. Use your best judgment and the child in front of you for knowing when to approach these conversations.

Adulthood (18+ years)

  • Understanding warning signs of domestic abuse (Recognise, Respond, Refer by DV-alert is a great resource).
  • As an adult, they may disclose something to you. If this happens support them in seeking help from a professional and accessing appropriate resources.

If you are in a situation where a child discloses something to you, here is an Instagram post with some ideas on what to say, what not to do, and further resources.

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