Empowering Your Child to Say “No!”

It is a parent’s responsibility to keep children safe by safe screening caregivers, but it is also useful to teach children how to deal with difficult situations should someone try to break a body-safety rule.

If Somebody Tries to Touch Your Private Parts, Say “No” or “Stop It.”
While it’s important to teach children to say “No” to anyone who tries to break a body-safety rule, it’s understandably difficult for children so speak up to an authority figure—particularly given that 90 percent of people who break body-safety rules are known and trusted by the child and the child’s parents.1

For this reason, let children know repeatedly that they have your permission to say “No” if someone breaks a body-safety rule—no matter who it is. Also, remind children that if they cannot or do not say “No,” it is never their fault and you will never be mad.

If Someone Tries to Touch Your Private Parts, Try to Get Away and Tell
Children also need to be reminded that if something happens that makes them feel yucky, it is important to tell a trusted adult. Help children create a list of people they can talk to about concerns. Sometimes children don’t want to upset their parents so they may prefer to talk with someone else. Here’s some sample language:

“If someone tries to touch your private parts, try to get away from that person, and most importantly, tell someone else what happened, even if the person who tried to touch you tells you to keep it a secret.”

Let children know that even if they don’t tell right away, you won’t be angry and will always love them. If they didn’t tell when something first happened, they can tell you later.

Don’t Keep Secrets about Touching Private Parts
I also recommend teaching children the difference between secrets and surprises. Surprises, such as delighting Mom with breakfast in bed on her birthday, are fun and feel good. Secrets, on the other hand, make children feel uncomfortable or conflicted inside.

Implement a “No secrets” rule in your home and let children know, “Never keep secrets about someone touching your private parts. Always tell me (or any adult you trust) if someone tries to break your body-safety rules, especially if they tell you to keep a secret or say, ‘Don’t tell your parents.'”

Also let extended family and all caregivers know about your “no secret” rule so everyone is on your prevention team.

Ali: “Can I please have one more cookie.”
Grandma: “OK, sweetie, but let’s not tell your Dad.”
Mother: “Remember Mom, we don’t ask Ali to keep secrets about anything, even something as innocent as an extra cookie.”

One in three girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused.2 Child sexual abusers groom children by testing out how likely the child is to keep a secret. The groomer begins with a seemingly innocent secret and then raises the stakes. If your child won’t keep a secret and adults interrupt “innocent” secrets from the start by speaking up, the groomer moves on.

1 http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx
2 Briere, J., Eliot, D.M. Prevalence and Psychological Sequence of Self-Reported Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse in General Population: Child Abuse and Neglect, 2003, 27 10.

Published on: July 23, 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

I remember once that my daughter’s preschool teacher did not let the innocuous “secret” she was whispering in her ear be a true secret and now I can see why she made it a point to say we don’t do secrets. Such great info shared here.

So glad the information is helpful. We can just turn secrets into surprises and keep kids safe! There is never a time a child has to keep a “secret,” but lots of opportunities for surprises!