The NSPCC explains how a simple conversation will help to keep your child safe from sexual abuse
Simple conversations to keep your child safe from harm, like crossing the road, bullying and dealing with strangers, are subjects you probably discuss with your child. But what about staying safe from sexual abuse?
It’s a conversation no parent wants to have. But thankfully it doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, you don’t even have to mention ‘sex’ or ‘abuse’.
The Underwear Rule is a simple way to help keep children safe. It teaches children that their body belongs to them, they have a right to say no, and that they should tell an adult if they’re upset or worried.
We would suggest the PANTS rule is suitable for children between 5 and 11 but parents or carers know their own children best and may feel comfortable covering elements of the rule earlier.
To help children really remember the Underwear Rule, the NSPCC want to get everyone talking PANTS.
Privates are private
Anything covered by underwear is private. No one should ask to see or touch parts of the body covered by underwear. No one should ask your child to touch or look at parts of their body covered by underwear. If anyone tries, your child should say no. In some situations, people – such as family members at bathtime, doctors or nurses – may need to touch your child’s private parts. Explain to your child that this is OK, but that those people should always explain why, and ask if it’s OK first.
Always remember your body belongs to you
Your child has the right to say ‘no’ – even to a family member or someone they love. This shows your child they’re in control of their body and their feelings are respected. There are times when you may need to overrule your child’s preferences to keep them safe – like when you’re crossing the road – but it helps if you explain why. If a child feels empowered to say no to their own family, they are more likely to say no to others. Your child should know their body belongs to them, and no one else. No one has the right to make your child do anything with their body that makes them feel uncomfortable. If anyone tries, they should tell a trusted adult.
No means no
Your child has the right to say ‘no’ – even to a family member or someone they love. This shows your child they’re in control of their body and their feelings are respected. There are times when you may need to overrule your child’s preferences to keep them safe – like when you’re crossing the road – but it helps if you explain why. If a child feels empowered to say no to their own family, they are more likely to say no to others.
Talk about secrets that upset you
Help your child feel confident about speaking up about a secret that’s worrying them. Reassure your child that it won’t get them into trouble. And explain the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets. Some secrets, like surprise parties, can be good. But adults should never make a child keep a secret that makes them feel worried, sad or frightened. Secrets are often an abuser’s greatest weapon. Phrases like “it’s our little secret” are their way of making a child feel worried or scared to tell. Help your child to feel clear and confident about what to share and when. Secrets shouldn’t be kept in exchange for something, and should never make your child feel uneasy. A secret should always be shared in the end.
Speak up, someone can help
If your child feels sad, anxious or frightened they can talk to an adult they trust. This person will listen, and can help stop whatever’s making them upset. Remind your child that whatever the problem, it’s not their fault and they won’t get into trouble. A trusted adult doesn’t have to be a family member. It can be a teacher, an older brother or sister or a friend’s parent. It can even be Childline.
Tips and techniques to help you talk PANTS
- Don’t view conversations about staying safe as a one-off. It’s much better to have the conversations little and often – you don’t even need to cover the whole rule all at once. This will help you to reinforce the key points, and to adapt the message as your child gets older.
- Weaving simple conversations about staying safe into a daily routine is a great way to stop it feeling like a lecture. If it feels less strange for your child, it will feel much easier for you too.
- Children find it hard to speak out. By encouraging children to talk about issues earlier, and listening to their thoughts and feelings, parents can create the culture of openness that helps keep children safe from abuse.
- You don’t have to talk about sex or keeping safe from sexual abuse until you feel your child is ready. But if your child asks questions, it’s really valuable to take the opportunity to talk. You can show your child that you’re open to having conversations. And it will help your child feel confident that they can come to you whenever they’re worried.
- If your child says something that worries you in any way, get some advice. Talk to a teacher at school or get in touch with the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. We’re here 24/7 to give advice and support.