Do Your Children Have Body-Safety Rules?

We teach children numerous rules for being safe, from blowing on hot soup and using the cross walk to wearing a seat belt and riding with a helmet. But what about personal body safety around touch, private parts, and boundaries?

It turns out that children who are knowledgeable about body-safety are not only more confident, but also less vulnerable to unwanted touch and even child sexual abuse.

With age-appropriate language, you can begin introducing body safety to children as young as one and two years old. The younger the child, either chronologically or developmentally, the more concrete the rule, but bottom line, by using age-appropriate language, you can instill confidence from a young age and empower children to be “the boss of their body!”

Body-Safety Rule #1
This first rule is about basic physical safety and privacy—and it starts by using the anatomically correct names for body parts.

“No one is allowed to touch your vagina (or penis) unless you need help cleaning it or your private parts are hurt or sick and the doctor or nurse needs to examine them.”

Parents have plenty of opportunities to knit body safety into daily interactions. Perhaps you are changing your son’s diaper:

“Mommy is going to clean your penis and testicles now. Remember, no one is allowed to touch your penis, unless you need help cleaning it, which is what I’m doing right now.”

It is perfectly normal for children to touch their own private parts, so depending on your values, for a slightly older child you may also wish to add:

“Since you’re the boss of your body, it’s always OK for you to touch and look at your own private parts, as long as you do it in private when no one else is around.”

Body-Safety Rule #2
The flip side of the first rule, kids also need to know that it’s “not OK” to touch someone else’s private parts.

Consider an interaction between a three and five year old who are playing in the tub and poking at each other’s private parts:

“I’m glad you’re having fun in the tub together, but let’s remember the body-safety rules: No one is allowed to touch your private parts and it’s not OK to touch someone else’s private parts. How about we make beards out soap?”

Body-Safety Rule #3
There has been a sharp rise in online child pornography, including live streaming. With this body-safety rule, you can teach children about photos, videos, and safety.

“No one is allowed to take pictures or videos of your private parts or show you pictures of naked people. And you’re not allowed to take pictures of other people’s private parts either.”

This body-safety rule is not meant to stop parents from taking photos of their children (even the cute bathtub photo), but rather to prevent someone using children for pornographic purposes.

Tomorrow I will share a couple of guidelines for teaching children what to do if someone tries to break one of their body-safety rules. Meanwhile, Test Your Knowledge about child sexual abuse.

Published on: July 22, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Feather Berkower

Feather Berkower has been a leader in child sexual abuse prevention since 1985. Her highly regarded workshop, Parenting Safe Children, empowers adults to keep children safe from sexual abuse. Feather is also the co-author of Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.

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Recent Comments

Thank you for writing about this subject.

Unfortunately you are breaking your own rul by talking about the vagina in your writing above, a common mistake.
The anatomically correct name is vulva.

Also empowering the child from very early on to be the one who controls access to their body is by giving the child a choice who “cleans the penis”.
Asking the child who they prefer to do it or simply offering assistance for the child to do it themselves would be preferable.
This can then be part of the teaching of body function and what happens when, it opens discussion for a later stage.

As a mother-to-be I am interested in collecting thoughts, advice and words of wisdom for successfully directing my child-to-be on the ways of safety and success in this world. I am encouraged to see that this topic is being addressed and am equally encouraged to learn that there are meaningful steps I can take each and every day to empower my child about their body safety, amongst all the other areas of safety we desire for our children. Thanks for sharing this post!

You are so very welcome. There is so much you can be doing daily with your child and the best part, is it can be really fun.

Best wishes with your new little person on his/her way.

Thank you, Dr. Greene, for posting this good advice. It may seem that talking this clearly to an infant or toddler is unnecessary, but there are pedophiles who target this age group and plan their lives so they have access to kids. These simple words about the body, spoken to a child, can help to avoid serious problems.