By Dr. Anupama Verma*
We teach our young children all sorts of ways to keep themselves safe. We teach them to watch the hot stove, we teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. But, more often than not, body safety is not taught until much older — until sometimes, it is too late.
The statistics are sobering: according to a recent survey, one in two children in India is a victim of sexual abuse. In addition, one in every three children in India feels unsafe at school, the main concerns being lack of protection from strangers and being the target of physical, emotional abuse or violence.
Many parents and books talk about "good touch and bad touch," but this can be confusing because often these touches do not hurt. I prefer the term "secret touch" ...
Isn't it a matter of shame for us? Yes of course it is, but often we profess helplessness. Parents will frequently tell me that they didn't think this could happen to them. That they never leave their children with strangers. That they always keep their children within sight.
Do your children go to daycare or preschool? Do you have friends or family over to your house? Do they play at the neighbour's house? The fact is, you cannot fully prevent the risk of your child being sexually abused. We have to allow our children to go out into the world and interact with those around them. But we can arm them with something that might save them from being victimised. We can teach our children the skills they need to protect themselves.
Most parents do not talk to their children about body safety early enough. They think kids are too young. It is too scary. But it is never too soon, and it doesn't have to be scary. Here are 10 things that could help your child be less vulnerable to sexual abuse.
1. Talk about body parts early
Name body parts and talk about them very early. Use proper names for body parts. I can tell you many young children call their vagina their "bottom." Feeling comfortable using these words and knowing what they mean can help a child express themselves clearly if something inappropriate has happened.
2. Teach your child that some body parts are private
Tell your child that their private parts are called private because they are not for everyone to see. Explain that mommy and daddy can see them naked, but people outside of the home should only see them with their clothes on. Explain how their doctor can see them without their clothes because mommy and daddy are there with them and the doctor is checking their body.
3. Teach body boundaries
Tell your child pragmatically that no one should touch their private parts and they should never be asked to touch somebody else's private parts. Parents will often forget the second part of this sentence. Sexual abuse often begins with the perpetrator asking the child to touch them or someone else.
4. Tell your kid that body secrets are not okay
Most perpetrators will tell the child to keep the abuse a secret. This can be done in a friendly way, such as, "I love playing with you, but if you tell anyone else what we played they won't let me come over again." Or it can be a threat: "This is our secret. If you tell anyone I will tell them it was your idea and you will get in big trouble!" Tell your kids that no matter what anyone tells them, body secrets are not okay and they should always tell you if someone tries to make them keep a body secret.
5. Tell your child that no one should take pictures of their private parts
This one is often missed by parents. There is a whole sick world out there of paedophiles who love to take and trade pictures of naked children online. This is an epidemic and it puts your child at risk. Tell your kids that no one should ever take pictures of their private parts.
6. Teach your child how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations
Some children are uncomfortable with telling people "NO"— especially older peers or adults. Tell them that it's okay to tell an adult they have to leave, if something that feels wrong is happening, and help give them words to get out of uncomfortable situations. Tell your child that if someone wants to see or touch private parts they can tell them that they need to leave to go potty.
7. Have a code word your children can use when they feel unsafe
As children get a little bit older, you can give them a code word that they can use when they are feeling unsafe. This can be used at home, when there are guests in the house or when they are on a play date or a sleepover.
8. Tell your children they will never be in trouble if they tell you a body secret
Children often tell me that they didn't say anything because they thought their parents wouldn't listen or that they would be berated. This fear is often used by the perpetrator. Tell your child that no matter what happens, when they tell you anything about body safety or body secrets they will NEVER get in trouble.
9. Tell your child that a body touch might tickle or feel good
Many parents and books talk about "good touch and bad touch," but this can be confusing because often these touches do not hurt or feel bad. I prefer the term "secret touch," as it is a more accurate depiction. Tell your child that even if the "secret touch" feels good, it is sexually inappropriate.
10. Tell your child that these rules apply to people they know and even with another child
This is an important point to discuss with your child. When you ask a young child what a "bad guy" looks like they most likely describe a comic antihero. Make them aware that there's more to it. You can say something like, "Mommy and daddy might touch your private parts when we are cleaning you, but no one else should touch you there. Not friends, not aunts or uncles, not teachers—nobody. Even if you like them, they should still not touch your private parts. If someone does, they are the bad guy/girl."
Find natural times to reiterate these messages, such as bath time or when they are running around naked.
While these discussions may not absolutely prevent sexual abuse, knowledge is a powerful deterrent, especially with young children who are targeted due to their innocence and ignorance in this area.
And one discussion is not enough. Find natural times to reiterate these messages, such as bath time or when they are running around naked. And please share this article with those you love and care about and help me spread the message of body safety!
* Dr. Anupama Verma is an adult and psychologist and the founder of The Mind Clinic. She is a member of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO.
The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.
This was originally posted at mycity4kids.com