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This blog post was originally written for Firm foundations Tutoring and can be found HERE.

Body Safety. What a seemingly silly phrase. As adults, we know what is safe for our bodies. As children, we must be taught. But as parents, we may rarely consider this. And there is a story to accompany this truth…

My daughter was almost eleven when she disclosed her sexual abuse. I knew for many years something just wasn’t “right,” but I never suspected it would be THAT, especially by THOSE people. All those years of teaching stranger danger! Nevertheless, it most definitely WAS THAT by THOSE people, and our world came caving in around us.

In hindsight, I should have seen it. Always, right? As I replayed the years of caring for my daughter, I realized I had asked the wrong questions and taught the “wrong” simple lessons.

“Be sweet,” I would say, directing her to behave, anytime I left her in someone else’s care.

A better way to depart wisdom to her would have been, “Be sweet, but remember, YOU are the boss of your body.” And that statement should have been a follow-up reminder to the conversations we had prior, regarding private parts and body safety, appropriate and inappropriate touch, and expectations of adults to protect, not cause harm or “uh-oh” feelings.

“Has anyone ever touched you inappropriately?,” I remember asking her on multiple occasions, actually, when I noticed a shift in her behavior possibly alerting me to something deeper.

But her response, “no,” made me question myself and lay those concerns aside, assuming I was just being too sensitive or worried.

A better question to ask when my fears were heightened would have been, “Has ANYONE, EVER, touched you in ANY of these private places? Have you ever felt UNSAFE?”

As I have learned in the years since, sexual perpetrators do not usually indicate behavior as inappropriate to the child, because the child in most cases knows their perpetrator, and this person is someone with whom they have a trusting relationship: a family member, a family friend or neighbor, coach, church friend, or even another child or teen. I have also learned, my questions and directions to my child should have been with more thought and attention to her safety.

So how can we all “do better,” as I like to say?

What’s next?

First, TEACH the children in YOUR home and educate yourself. When your children are educated and equipped, they can more easily identify abuse and protect themselves, and know how to respond to a friend in the event one comes forward about sexual abuse. Here are a few ways to begin:

I HIGHLY recommend purchasing The Mama Bear Effect’s Rock the Talk™ Parent Pack for less than a coffee drink. This packet is full of practical info on how to take action and is a great hands-on way to keep it in front of your family. If purchasing is not an option for you, check out their Rock the Talk™ page where you can get specific info on teaching Infants to Toddlers, your Grade School children, and Tweens + Teens.

Second, TAKE ACTION and bring awareness to your circle of influence and community. When your circle of influence is aware of your vigilance, they too will be made aware of the importance of protecting our children. When your community or neighborhood is aware, you can help create an environment where a network of safe adults is working together to raise prevention. Not many perpetrators are going to want to mess with that! Here are some ideas to get started:

  • The Mama Bear Effect recommends us to Build a Body Safety Circle™ by educating the adults in closest contact with your child, in multiple areas of their life: Home, Non-Family, School, Camps, Childcare. This helps to reduce the opportunity for abuse, but also gives your child a net of safe individuals they can disclose abuse to if they are not comfortable disclosing to you as the parent. More on how to Build a Body Safety Circle™ can be found in the Rock the Talk™ Parent Pack.
  • Set up a neighborhood “Keeping Kids Safe” gathering and share information. A friend of mine thought of this idea during the launch of our #End1in10 Campaign and I LOVE IT! Most neighborhoods have a Facebook page or Nextdoor site where communication happens. Pick a date, invite your neighbors either through your neighborhood communication page or simply delivering paper invites door-to-door, prepare a presentation with resources available, and share why you are starting and inviting them into the conversation. You may be surprised at how many parents have never considered the danger and how many of you can come together to make your neighborhood a safer place for everyone. For more ideas on how to facilitate such an event, feel free to contact me and I will be happy to sit down with you.
  • Keep a Five Body Safety Rules poster (available for free download) in a high traffic area of your home where neighbor kids may see it, and don’t be afraid to introduce them to it upon their first visit. {I recommend printing a copy for all the parents of your children’s friends/neighbor kids to notify them of your effort to keep this in plain view in your home, in order to build a safer community for them all. This will not only open conversations, but it will ensure you don’t have any parents knocking on your door, totally blind-sided!}

Memorize The Mama Bear Effect’s “Mama Bear Mantras” found in the Rock the Talk™ Parent Pack to help you and your children remember:

  • It is your job to protect them.
  • Their body is special + they are the boss of it.
  • If a big person breaks the rules about privates, it’s never the child’s fault and it’s never too late to tell.

In the event your child discloses abuse, be prepared and do YOUR job as the parent to love on them, care for their heart, and say, “I believe you,” and “It’s not your fault,” until they believe it. {More on this in a later post.}

When navigating Teaching Body Safety, we do not have to be afraid. Will some conversations be uncomfortable, yes. But any time you hesitate because of discomfort, consider how uncomfortable your child would be if abused and the discomfort your child would feel carrying the weight of that secret, the burden of shame, then you both navigating the justice system while processing trauma and entering into a journey of healing. I promise you, that is far more uncomfortable than having these conversations. Don’t feel as though you have to reinvent the wheel either. The links provided throughout this post are rich with information and provide even more options to further your education to be equipped, so take advantage of what already exists. Your efforts will plant seeds in your children they can carry well into adulthood, and hopefully create a cycle of teaching body safety to the generations to come.

We have an opportunity to affect change. It is our responsibility as adults. And we have all the tools available to us to do it. I am more than happy to help you. Will you make it a priority in your home and community?