Body Safety, Terminology, and Consent: Why it Matters

It was a situation I thought we would never face. The events are still fresh in my mind and the feelings are still intense. I’m currently navigating mixed emotions of anger, sadness, bitterness, and numbness. I’m processing an event that will affect my child for the rest of her life. The unknown of its long-term effects scares me.  

It happened in a safe place with a friend she trusted. Though she only knew him for a short time, she considered him a friend. They would continue to build their friendship after we left. That was the plan. I took pictures of them together and smiled over the sweetness of them. I wondered how we could keep them in touch when the week was over. And then, on the final evening, everything changed. It ended with my child hiding under a table, screaming and crying. She was inconsolable. My dad was with us. He brought her up to the room shortly before I came up. I expected my child to welcome me with smiles and talk of how fun her evening was. Instead, I was trying to piece together what was happening with my dad, through the screams. All he said was the name of her friend and I knew where this was going. I had to physically pull her out from under the table and assure her I would not be mad about whatever she would tell me. I was hoping it was something minor but deep down, I knew. She told me everything that happened. She told me she knew what she should have done. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to scream. I had to remain calm for her. I was shaking. The world around me was a blur. She’s only seven. How is this happening?

In the whirlwind of it all, there was confirmation that perhaps I had done something right. As parents, we constantly doubt ourselves. Almost daily, I question myself. Am I doing the right thing? The talks I had with my children, the emphasis on proper terms for body parts, and the emphasis on consent paid off. And she trusted me. She told me immediately after it happened.

We started the talks from a young age. It started with correctly identifying body parts. Private parts were identified as what they are. There were no nicknames. We don’t have funny names for other body parts. Why would we use them for genitals? In the event a child is touched, a word, such as cookie, can impact the validity. We emphasized who can look at their private parts and the circumstances. This is where consent is tied in. You can start teaching consent from the beginning with diaper changes. I always inform my toddler when I’m going to change his diaper. In the bath, I tell him what I am going to wash. We can model in everyday activities.

Body autonomy is the control we have over our own bodies. We discuss personal space. Respect others. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable. If you don’t want to hug someone, you don’t have to. Your body belongs to you. My children can get physical when they play. The minute someone says, “No,” or “Don’t touch me,”- hands off.

Let your children know they will not get in trouble for telling the truth. I praise mine when they do even if there are consequences for their actions. Tell a trusted grown-up if someone makes you feel uncomfortable or asks you to keep a secret. In the event, someone does touch you, you will not get in trouble.

You don’t need to go into great detail when talking to your children. There are simple ways of explaining things and getting the point across. Starting the dialogue may seem uncomfortable. It’s only as uncomfortable as you make it. Find opportunities during bath time. Check out books about body safety. When my children get ready for swim lessons, I will sometimes remind them that the areas covered by their swimming suits are off limits to others. You might wonder if they understand. They do.

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