It’s never too early to begin talking to your child about body safety. Although infants may be too young to identify body parts or grasp the concept of body safety, reading books or talking about these topics when they are infants or toddlers can help parents become more comfortable talking about body safety as the child gets older.
Teach your child the correct names for his or her body parts. Introduce general safety concepts, such as wearing a helmet or a seat belt, and include unwanted touching as something to be vigilant about.
Teach your child that no one should touch his or her private parts (i.e., body parts covered by a bathing suit) except to keep your child healthy, such as a doctor during a checkup. You should also make sure your child knows to tell a trusted adult if something happens, even if the child couldn’t say no at the time. Encourage your child to speak freely with you and not keep secrets.
How to talk to your child about body safety:
- Be open and honest when your child asks questions.
- Talk at a level your child can understand.
- Use your child’s own words.
- Encourage your child to talk to you about anything at any time.
- Praise your child for telling you difficult things.
One thing parents can do to make sure their children are safe from child abuse is to know who is around their kids. Get to know the people involved in your child’s activities, such as:
- After-school program staff
- Camp staff
- Day care providers
- Play-group families
- Dating partners
- Sports program personnel
Check in on your child’s day care provider, sports program or babysitter periodically, unannounced, if you have concerns. Be aware of the interactions others have with your child. Talk with other parents who have children in the care of the same organization, agency or individual. Look into the background of organizations and staff who will be caring for your child, asking questions like:
- What is the organization or agency protocol on one-on-one interactions with children?
- How are staff screened for questionable employment or criminal history (before hire/annually/etc.)?
- Do you provide annual training for staff on prevention of child abuse and neglect?
- Is the day care provider licensed by the state?
While every case is different, it’s important to know how to watch for changes in your child’s behavior.
Certain behaviors can indicate sexual child abuse, but they may also be related to other events in a child’s life, such as a death, divorce, recent move or change in schools. If changes in your child’s behavior interfere with normal activities or continue after you have provided your child with guidance and structure, seek professional help.
Kids often become curious about their bodies and other people’s bodies, and this is normal. Children ages 1 to 5 may show interest in:
- Looking at others’ bodies.
- Bathroom activities of others.
- Showing their private parts to peers.
- Touching their private parts as self-soothing behavior, usually during naps or at bedtime.
If you suspect that your child is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, it is essential that you handle the situation with care. Your child will need your support now more than ever. It’s natural to have a strong reaction in this situation, but it’s important to:
- Remain calm.
- Tell your child he or she did the right thing by telling you.
- Tell your child it is not his or her fault.
- Protect your child from the person, and let your child know you will help keep him or her safe.
- Report your concerns immediately to the authorities (local law enforcement and/or the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) at 855-GA-CHILD or 855-422-4453).
- Call your child’s pediatrician to make an appointment or take your child to a local emergency department.
In addition, there are things it is important not to do if you suspect your child is a victim of abuse:
- Do not place blame on your child.
- Do not make judgmental comments.
- Do not confront the person.
- Do not have your child confront the person.
The following resources are available to give families additional information and support:
- Georgia Parenting Support Hotline: 800-CHILDREN
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Hotline: 800-656-4673
Report child abuse
If you have any reason to suspect child abuse, report your concerns immediately to your child’s pediatrician, the local police department, and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) at 855-GA-CHILD (855-422-4453 ).