Safe touch, unsafe touch

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NEENA JACOB

With the growing number of nuclear families where both parents are working we need to tackle ways to enable our children to keep safe. Keeping safe at home, by not opening the door to strangers, or looking both sides before we cross is easy enough to teach, but when it comes to talking about sexual abuse we are not very comfortable.

This is something we have to introduce them to as soon as they start playschool. It’s difficult, as talking about sex and naming the sexual organs, is something we are not very comfortable with. I was reading several articles on the same, but the advice of Alison Dickson struck a chord, it was so practical and doable so I would like to share this with you. At every age there are appropriate ways to talk about body safety. Remember the approach should not be too scary or intense but matter of fact.

Teach your child that they are the boss of their own body: We can talk about daily activities like wearing a helmet, holding a parent’s hand while crossing the street, not playing with electric gadgets, and eating healthy food! Help them to vocalise when a sibling or playmate pushes them. Teach them to say, ‘I don’t feel safe please stop’. Let them realise it’s okay to state their terms and keep themselves safe. This also means being respectful of another’s feelings and safety.

Don’t force any kind of touch: Don’t force your child to hug or kiss someone, if s/he is not comfortable about physical touch. In a lighter vein, in my husband’s family the older members always hug the kids and normally ‘sniff’ their cheek, no kissing, my son hated this so we asked him why and we had a hearty laugh at his reply: “What will happen if that nana ‘sniffs’ out? I will have snot all over me!” After that revelation, the older bolder one also stopped people from hugging her. Let them instead give a high five or say hello.

Use the proper word for body parts: We call an eye an eye and an elbow an elbow so why not give all parts the proper name. Not naming a part sends signals that there is something to be ashamed about. Tell them these are the doctor words for each part. At Sethu, Nandita de Souza regularly conducts workshops and if you visit the site www.sethu.in, you can find out and register for a webinar. Another site arpan.org.in also provides support and illustrations. On YouTube there are short clips that relate to every age. Remember watch it with your child and answer any questions that arise. ‘Tarshi’ also has books that address this issue. These are easily available online.

Keep the right tone: When you talk about ‘private parts’ during a bath or a visit to the doctor or the swimming pool talk in a normal tone. Use the terms casually in conversation so that you feel comfortable and your child does too.

Talk about safe touch versus unsafe touch: ‘Safe’ feels caring, like pats on the back or wanted hugs that make you feel like you want more. ‘Unsafe’ feels yucky and hurts your feelings such as pinching and hitting; it makes you want to get away.
Simple swimsuit rule: What is covered is private and no one should look or touch another’s private part. Practise how they can tell a friend or an elder if they are not comfortable: “No! Stop. Private parts are private”. Let them know they can tell a parent or a trusted elder. Remember don’t brush aside your child’s discomfort. Very often it is a close family member or acquaintance who gains the child’s and family’s trust before they make a move.

Have the conversation in more detail as your child grows: Let your child ask the questions. The questions are a good guide for how much information you must provide.

Don’t get overwhelmed but be aware and informed. When my kids were young I found these books by the Pauline sisters called Boy Talk and Girl Talk and gave it to them to read when they were about 10. It was a miracle; a boy who refused to read story books read the entire book in one sitting!

Happy parenting.

(Writer is a volunteer at local schools and a trustee with Sethu.)