How to protect your child from abuse

Kinderling News & Features

National Child Protection Week is September 3-9 this year. In Australia, a child is abused or neglected every 13 minutes. This is not just physical or sexual abuse, but also emotional abuse and neglect - forms of abuse that are much more common but potentially just as damaging to a child. 

Abuse can impact a child’s brain development, their self-worth, their academic success, even their physical development and skills, in addition to long term flow-on effects.

Act for Kids has developed a program called Learn to be safe with Emmy and friends. The five-week program teaches children what to be aware of to stay safe and to trust their own feelings.

With National Child Protection Week upon us, we asked program facilitator Danielle Groden how to best help kids learn body safety.

Listen to Danielle's interview with Kinderling Conversation: 

Danielle says that children should listen to their body at all times: “When they’re feeling scared, that’s probably their body’s warning signs, telling them something’s not right.”

So how can we help our children stay safe? 

1. Don’t force child to hug anyone, even yourself

Children need to recognise how they’re feeling and one way to do this is to ensure that they choose who touches them.

“It’s the basics in allowing them to make their own decisions in regards to their body, and what they feel comfortable doing,” Danielle says. “That really is the beginning of them understanding boundaries and what makes them feel safe.”

This is something even a two-year-old can understand. It’s the start of giving kids control and power over their own bodies.

2. Define trusted grown-ups

Talking to your child about who is a trusted grownup is important. But keep in mind, that this might not necessarily be family. They could choose a teacher or other carer, too.

Children need to be taught to “listen to their feelings and body because when they are scared it’s often their body telling them something is wrong and they need to get the help of an adult they trust,” says Danielle.

The new program Danielle teaches uses child-friendly language and catchy mantras to ensure children retain the message, such as “Tell, tell and tell again until someone listens and helps”, or “From my head to my toes, I say what goes.”

3. Discuss the difference between good and bad secrets

Explaining to children that there are both safe and unsafe secrets is important, so they know when to say if something isn’t right. The importance of always sharing a bad secret with a trusted grown up also needs to be emphasised.

Danielle says that kids need to be encouraged, “if someone ever tells you to keep something a secret that is hurting you or making you feel uncomfortable, you must always tell.”

4. Use correct terminology for body parts

By describing private body parts properly and consistently, kids will know exactly how to describe or communicate if something is making them feel uncomfortable.

This is also adopted in the program, says Danielle.

We also use the correct terminology for the private body parts so there is never any confusion.”

She goes on to highlight explaining which body parts are public and private is very important. This starts from a very young age, with those conversations in the bath or shower. 

5. Empower children to be the boss of their bodies

Perhaps most importantly is to instil in children from a young age that they have control over their body. 

“I think it's important to talk to children from a young age that they are the boss of their bodies, about being comfortable and that they have private and public body parts.”

It’s a good idea to practice words they can use if someone does come into their personal space or their invisible bubble without permission.

For more information about running this program at their child’s school, contact learntobesafe@actforkids.com.au