My 7-year-old daughter, Erin, will be taking swimming lessons. How do I talk to the swim instructor about her body safety?
First off, the goal of any screening is to invite caregivers onto your prevention team. It’s not an interrogation; it’s a conversation. Many parents ask me how to begin the conversation, so in the response below I offer some specific language. Of course, choose words that feel authentic to you. Initiate the conversation in a friendly manner:
“My daughter is so excited to be taking swim lessons. Do you have a couple minutes so we can talk a bit about safety? Can you tell me about your safety rules for the swim lessons?”
After the coach responds, let him or her know that you have additional rules you want to share. This is where you get to talk about body safety and secrets:
“I will ask Erin to follow the safety rules you just mentioned. I also want to let you know about our safety rules, which we share with all of our daughter’s caregivers and teachers. Erin does not keep secrets from her parents, she has permission to talk to trusted adults if she feels scared or worried, she is allowed to refuse unsafe requests, and lastly, she has body-safety rules for keeping her physical body safe.”
If it’s your first time screening, you might be more comfortable including your spouse or another parent. Either way, through this brief exchange, you are saying, “Let’s be partners in prevention” and you are sending a clear message, “My kid is off limits.”
So you’re off to a baseball game, state fair, or amusement park. Should you let your child go into the bathroom alone?
I get this question in nearly every Parenting Safe Children workshop and the answer is (drum roll, please), “It depends!” Some children are ready to go into a bathroom alone at six, while others aren’t ready until nine, ten, or even later. You know your child best. A more mature child is focused and isn’t likely to dawdle. Here are four prevention tips:
- If a bathroom stall is available near the door or your child is using a porta pottie, stand outside the door and talk with your child. This takes away access by demonstrating that your child is well connected to an adult.
- With children who are four or five or so, start teaching that you don’t go places or talk with people you don’t know, unless you’re with a trusted adult.
- Teach refusal skills: “No, thank you. My Mom/Dad is waiting for me.”
- Reinforce refusal skills with “What If” games. For instance, “If someone talks to you in the bathroom, or you feel uncomfortable in any way, what can you say or do?”
If your child is enrolled in camp and you have not had the time to screen, this is the perfect opportunity to talk with the administration about child sexual abuse prevention. Make sure prevention is not only on their radar, but that there are policies and practices to back it up. If you ask nothing else, ask these questions:
- Beyond background checks, what is the screening process for new hires?
- What kind of child sexual abuse prevention training do you offer staff and volunteers?
- What policies are in place to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse at your camp?
- How do you monitor older kids mentoring/spending time with younger kids?
- What are the situations where a counselor might be alone with a child? (The answer should be “Never.”)
- How would you handle a situation if you saw a child exploring sexually with another child? What if one of the children was coercing the other child vs. exploring?
Also let both administrators and counselors know that your child has body-safety rules—doesn’t keep secretes from you and has permission to tell you about anything that makes him/her worried or uncomfortable. In addition, tell camp caregivers that your child knows he/she is the boss of his/her body and has permission to say, “No,” runaway and tell an adult if someone makes an unsafe request.
Have a fun and safe summer!