Parents often wonder when they should talk to their children about good touch and bad touch or if it is a topic to be discussed at all. As intimidating as it is to think of these possibilities, it is important our children have the right knowledge that can keep them safe and protected.
The National Crime Record Bureau reports more than 45000 cases of Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act in 28 states and eight union territories across the country in recent months, with the majority of victims being girls. A large number of these children were adolescent girls but also included a significant number of younger children too. And the data shows that sexual offences against children have been on the rise. Irrespective of the frightening and alarming numbers, it is important to teach our children about good touch and bad touch as early as we can, in terms that they understand.
At what age can you initiate discussion.
There is, unfortunately, an awkwardness around this subject, bordering on the lines of it being taboo, but it is important. In a world where children’s exposure has immensely risen, they are the most vulnerable and at risk. Child experts recommend talking to children about good touch and bad touch as early as two years old because this aligns with children learning to identify and label their body parts.
Despite expert recommendations, many parents hesitate or delay bringing up the subject. Our children’s safety is of utmost importance. We are quick to teach them not to run out to the road or to stay away from the hot stove and to not stick their fingers into electrical sockets. Somehow, when it comes to teaching them about sexual safety, we don’t feel the urgency but we must realise that it is as important and natural as teaching children road or fire safety. The hesitation might stem from assuming that the child is too young to understand or might be intimidated by these discussions. It might be a difficult conversation but that does not take away its importance and necessity.
Some ways to teach your child about good touch and bad touch:
Encouraging ownership of body: You can start this discussion as young as when they are 2, by letting your child know that they are the “boss” of their body. Assure them that only they can decide what physical contact they are comfortable with and not okay with. Support them if they don’t want to hug a relative or give someone a peck on the cheek.
Use proper terms to label body parts: In many families, parents hesitate from using proper terms for anatomy and use nicknames instead. Just as we teach children body parts such as eyes, ears, nose, we also need to teach them to label their private parts, to normalise talking about it. When we use nicknames instead, children might sense their parent’s hesitation and assume this is something to hide or shy away from discussing. Instead using the right terms will make them feel comfortable talking about it. Do not shy away from using the correct anatomical terms; vagina, penis, buttocks. This helps children understand that there is nothing to be embarrassed about while talking about these body parts.
Do not force any kind of physical affection: Parents often sometimes pressurise children to hug or kiss relatives, grandparents, even when the child feels uncomfortable or refuses to do so. We’ve probably heard it or said it sometimes “grandma will feel sad if you don’t hug her”. As much as we might do this in order to encourage respecting elders in the family, and it isn’t exactly the definition of a bad touch, forcing any kind of touch, takes away our children’s right over their bodies and what they are comfortable with. We need to let out children know over and over again that it is okay to say No when they feel uncomfortable about something. If your child is not comfortable giving kisses or hugs to relatives, give them options to show their affection. They could maybe give a hi-fi or wave out, or fist bump. Let hugs and kisses be restricted to times it occurs naturally and voluntarily.
Keep discussions open and natural: If as parents we hesitate to talk about something, our children can sense the awkwardness. Having these discussions in a normal, casual tone can help children feel more comfortable about it. You can use opportunities that arise during day to day activities to talk about good touch and bad touch. With younger children, it can be at bath time or while dressing them up. If these conversations are spoken in the same tone you use to talk about other daily conversations, they become easier to have. Children might be curious to know more, so be prepared for questions. Don’t laugh or get offended or shocked at their questions, as it is natural for children to be curious. Keep those lines of communication open. Children are also visual learners, so reading relevant books that spark discussion is also a good idea. Some helpful books are” Some parts are not for sharing by Julie Le Frederico” “ It’s my body by Lory Freeman” “The right touch by Sandy Kleven”.
Explain in simple terms: Teach children about good and bad touch using simple and clear terms they are familiar with. Explaining what a good touch feels like and where it is appropriate, can help simplify this content. A good touch is something that feels safe, good and feels like caring and affectionate, like a hi-fi, a pat on the back, a hug that feels comfortable and not forced. A bad touch doesn’t feel safe, hurts, feels forced, scary, uncomfortable. Also, ensure to tell your child what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable about a touch. Assure them that they can say “no”, “stop” “ don’t touch me”, confide in a parent or a trusted grown-up if they ever find themselves in these situations and that they have the right to refuse physical touch even if it is a family member.
Explain what “private” parts of the body mean: An interesting and simplified way to teach them the concept of private parts, is the swimsuit rule; that is, if a body part is covered by a swimsuit, then it is private. Once children understand this concept, parents also need to tell children rules around private parts; that no one is to look or touch anyone else’s private parts. Talk to your child about grown-ups who are allowed to touch their private parts for specific reasons; eg a parent or a doctor, in the presence of a parent. However, a bad touch may not be limited to private parts, so let your child know, they can always confide in you if they feel uncomfortable with someone’s touch or physical contact.
Awareness and communication can help keep our children safe. It is imperative we have these discussions with our children in a language they understand and as early as we can, keeping all our reservations aside.
If you would like more guidance on broaching these subjects in your home or need support to help your child, do not hesitate to reach out to our counsellors at Tactopus. We are here to help.