Family Life

Body safety skills

some secrets should never be kept

This is a guest post by Jayneen Sanders. In all honesty, I am a little unsure about how this article will be received, and I was a little weary about publishing it. But I realised, this is a very important topic, and an area of such stigma and contention in how we talk about it in society and in the community. And this is why I am publishing it, and sharing Jayneen’s expert thoughts. We need to get talking, raise awareness and change the stigma attached to silence and secrecy. 


As parents we teach water safety and road safety, but too often ‘body safety’ is left in the ‘too-hard basket’. And yes, it is a difficult topic to discuss with our children but that is not a good reason why we should not broach this subject. With 1 in 4 girls and I in 7 boys sexually abused with before their 18th birthday (Australian Institute of Criminology 2004), we need to most definitely teach our children body safety from as young as 3 years old. And with 93% of the perpetrators known to victims of sexual abuse, we need to make sure children know their rights, ie their body is their body and no-one has the right to touch it inappropriately.
The sexual abuse of children has no social boundaries and as we hear in the media of late, perpetrators can be relentless in their pursuit of a child. Therefore my mission as a teacher, mother and advocate of sexual abuse prevention education is ‘skill up’ our kids and educate our community. Hopefully our children will never experience sexual abuse, but just in case they are touched inappropriately, it important they have the knowledge necessary and know what to do. Below are nine body safety skills you can cover with your child. Let’s all work together to keep our children safe. Forewarned is forearmed! Knowledge is powerful!

Note: these skills can be taught gradually and in daily conversations as your child grows.

1. As soon as your child begins to talk and is aware of their body parts, begin to name them correctly, e.g. toes, nose, eyes, etc. Children should also know the correct names for their genitals from a young age. Try not to use ‘pet names’. This way, if a child is touched inappropriately, they can clearly state to you or a trusted adult where they have been touched.

2. Teach your child that their penis, vagina, bottom, breasts and nipples are called their ‘private parts’ and that these are their body parts that go under their swimsuit. Note: a child’s mouth is also known as a ‘private zone’.

3. Teach your child that no-one has the right to touch or ask to see their private parts (and if someone does, they must tell you or a trusted adult (or older teenager) straight away. Reinforce that they must keep on telling until they are believed. (Statistics tell us that a child will need to tell three people before they are believed.) As your child becomes older (3+) help them to identify five people they could tell. These people are part of their ‘network’.

4. Teach you child that if some-one (i.e. the perpetrator) asks them to touch their own private parts or shows their private parts to the child that this is wrong also, and that they must tell a trusted adult (or older teenager) straightaway. Reinforce that they must keep on telling until they are believed.

5. At the same time as you are discussing in appropriate touch, talk about feelings. Discuss what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, excited, etc. Encourage your child in daily activities to talk about their feelings, e.g. ‘I felt really sad when … pushed me over.’ This way your child will be more able to verbalise how they are feeling if someone does touch them inappropriately.

6. Talk with your child about feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. Discuss times when your child might feel ‘unsafe’, e.g. being pushed down a steep slide; or ‘safe’, e.g. snuggled up on the couch reading a book with you. Children need to understand the different emotions that come with feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. For example, when feeling ‘safe’, they may feel happy and have a warm feeling inside; when feeling ‘unsafe’ they may feel scared and have a sick feeling in their tummy.

7. Discuss with your child their ‘early warning signs’ when feeling unsafe, i.e. heart racing, feeling sick in the tummy, sweaty palms, feeling like crying. Let them come up with some ideas of their own. Tell your child that they must tell you if any of their ‘early warning signs’ happen in any situation. Reinforce that you will always believe them and that they can tell you anything.

8. As your child grows, try as much as possible to discourage the keeping of secrets. (Perpetrators rely heavily on children keeping secrets.) Talk about happy surprises such as not telling Granny about her surprise birthday party and ‘bad’ secrets such as someone touching your private parts. Make sure your child knows that if someone does ask them to keep an inappropriate secret that they must tell you or someone in their network straight away.

9. Discuss with your child when it is appropriate for someone to touch their private parts, e.g. a doctor if they are sick (but making sure they know you must be in the room). Discuss with your child that if someone does touch their private parts (without you there) they have the right to say: ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’ and outstretch their arm and hand. Children (from a very young age) need to know their body is their body and no-one has the right to touch it in appropriately.

It is a little ‘icky’ talking about this, I get that feeling too. But this is not about sex, this is about teaching children assertive language and skills to tell people ‘NO’ when someone does something inappropriate to them. For children to feel they can respond assertively is not only a positive skill when talking about body parts, but a skill that goes far beyond into their day-to0-day life and life skills.

If you want to hear Jayneen talk more about this topic, you can see an interview of her on The Circle. Just click here.

To help parents help their children learn about body safety skills, Jayneen is offering one of her books, Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept, to one lucky TPF reader. Just leave me a comment below telling me:

How you help your children learn about their body and their body parts?

Lastly, sexual abuse prevention and protective behaviours is not only a parent’s responsibly, it is also the community’s responsibility. Ask you child’s kinder or school if they are running a protective behaviours program. If they are not, ask why not. And PLEASE lobby for it.

About the Author: Jayneen Sanders (aka Jay Dale) is the author of the children’s picture book ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ (also an ibook) see: or if outside Australia Amazon to purchase. Links and free resources available from the Some Secrets website.

Linking up with Essentially Jess

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  • BossyMummy

    This is one of those subjects that is so important, but does feel ‘icky’ to talk about. Well written, with some great tips on how to deal with a sensitive subject.

    Hello from #teamIBOT

  • Ai Sakura

    A very important post and I’m glad you posted it. We have been teaching Lil Pumpkin about not letting people other than us or grandma, not just strangers, to touch her private parts but I guess it’s important to talk to her about the feelings of being “safe” and “unsafe” too.

  • Kell Kelly

    It is definitely one of those topcs that children need to be aware of even though no one wants to speak about it.
    Thank you for posting!

  • Julie

    Thanks for posting this. Definitely a few things I hadn’t thought of…the 3 people to tell etc. So sad that we have to read about it, but so necessary

    • Tahlia @ the parenting files

      I liked the three people to tell too. Sometimes kids can’t talk to their parents. But if we know their is at least one person they feel safe to talk to, about anything, this is really important! x

  • Emily @ Have a laugh on me

    Fantastic tips – and something I really want to teach my children. Thanks :)

  • Lou

    We need to break down the stigma about bringing this out to the open. Last year I put forward an assignment on Sibling Sexual Abuse and this also needs to be raised. It is just as prevalent as adult to child incest.
    Despite my hovercraft parenting style, I was unable to protect my daughter. She was three and a half when an 11 year old son of friends touched her. She told us and we listened. This boy has severe issues and the parents don’t help, but as I would not lay police charges there is nothing anyone will/can do.
    I was not looking for an 11 year old to be a perpertrator!
    My daughter will be fine and it was molestation, thankfully no more, but it had a definite impact on her psyche.
    A book we found useful was “Everbody’s got a bottom”, by family planning QLD.
    I have protected my child, but the system will not allow me to protect others. This boy has all the signs and no intervention. I also suspected that there was sibling sexual abuse going on between him and his brother.
    Always be on the lookout no matter what the age/stage of a child or adult around your child and following the above tips and always keeping an open dialogue with your child are paramount. I am glad that my daughter as little as she was knew she could come to us and tell us. That was 1 1/2 years ago and my heart breaks everyday.

    • tahlia @ the parenting files

      Lou, firstly, thankyou for sharing your story. Because it is hearing words and stories like yours that can hopefully make a change and break the stigma. My heart goes out to you and your precious little girl. I can not imagine for one second what that experience then, and still is for you. And in such horror, you should be so proud of your little girl. For coming to you initially, and having the bravery to tell you. This shows so much in you as a mum.

      It is a scary topic, a scary area. My heart breaks for your little girl. My heart breaks for you. I hope your healing only gets better in time. Thankyou again Lou. Thankyou so much for sharing your story xo

  • EssentiallyJess

    Great post and thankyou for publishing. We need to be aware of this.
    One thing we have done with our kids, is modelled an attitude of modesty. The idea behind it, is that if you teach them that wearing clothes is normality, then if anyone (particularly those trusted people who can be perpetrators) asks them to remove their clothes, the warning bells go off.

    • tahlia @ the parenting files

      Great job Jess. Such simple lessons, but so important. xo

  • Rachel

    Firstly well done Tahlia for using your blog as a platform to raise awarness of a subject that nobody really wants to talk about. The comment by Lou has made me cry and made me so angry that her little one had to go through that experience. But it’s exactly why all parents NEED to have these conversations with our children. Great job tackling this difficult subject.

    • tahlia @ the parenting files

      Thanks Rachel. As I mentioned, I was a little unsure how this post would be received. Now I am confident that it was a good decision. xo