Child molestation is a very real thing. Yet many parents have a hard time talking about body safety to their children. And if it’s ever discussed, it’s under the very confusing and vague construct of “Good Touch, Bad Touch”. Protecting your children from abuse entails so much more than talking. It’s a broad matter of how you actually raise them.
Below I have listed some strategies how to instill safe body boundaries in children and what’s so problematic about “good touch and bad touch” phraseology.
1. Bond with your child.
Never underestimate the importance of creating a strong bond with your child based on trust, understanding and warmth. This includes listening to everything thery have to say and being patient over their mistakes. When you foster that loving connection with your child, they will know that you will always be there for them, full of love and without any judgements.
2. Model normal physical intimacy for your children.
Be physically affectionate with your children. Children thrive on it. Hug, kiss and cuddle them often. This helps model for them what normal and safe physical interaction is like. When being affectionate, choose not to be physical in ways a child molestor might also use eg kissing on lips or smacking the child on his bottom out of love. Also try not samcking children as a way of discipline. This gives out a message to them that they are not in charge of their bodies.
3. Teach them the names of their body parts.
Teach your children the name of private body parts just as you would teach them the names of any other body parts. When in the bath or toilet you can tell them the parts which shouldn’t be touched by anyone (with exceptions of parents, sometimes doctors and other caretakers) and should be covered at all times. When children know the actual names of their body parts, they will know it’s okay to talk about them. In many cases the reason children can’t talk about abuse is because they don’t know what words to use. Which brings us to the next point:
4. Drop your inhibitions and talk.
As children grow and become more aware of their bodies, it’s very normal for them to to get curious and start exploring their bodies. Many parents may panic when their children ask them about their bodies, harshly rebuking them ending up attaching shame to their body parts. If children aren’t clearly told how to behave and what’s expected of them when it comes to their bodies, their curiosity will lead them to experiment with their own, friends’ or siblings private areas.
Allah SWT says in the Holy Qur’an:
وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
“…and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard…Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward.” [Quran 33: 35]
The above verse can be used to teach children what’s expected of them when it comes to their bodies. Ofcourse you don’t have to go into deep scholarly discussions. This verse can be used for laying down foundations for future discussions. For little children tell them their private parts are special that’s why not everyone can see them. As they grow up, you can go on building on this conversation.
5. Make your children masters of their own bodies.
Let your children know that they are the boss of their own bodies. This means letting them be in control of who touches their body and how. Children learn by how we interact with them so model the behaviour for your children. For example “I don’t want you to climb over me. Please stop.” Likewise respect your child’s choice if he doesn’t want to be touched a certain way at a certain time. “Looks like you don’t want me to cuddle you right now. That’s okay.” This also goes for other adults who might want to hug or kiss your child as a way of greeting them. If your child backs away, don’t force them into doing it. On the other hand, you also need to teach children to respect other people’s boundries. When they are playing rough with a sibling or a friend they need to stop when the other person says stop.
6. Respect your child’s privacy and boundaries even if they are too young to know anything.
Many habits are subconciously built into children while they are still very young. This includes developing a sense of privacy. Hence when they are still babies, try to change them in seclusion. This should include advising older children to respect their sibling’s privacy.
Also when your children are starting to notice things (around age 2) avoid changing your own clothes infront of them.
7. Choose appropriate entertainment content.
Unfortunately many of the content for children (tv shows, movies, games, books) these days contain inappropriate imagery and sexual undertones. Children obviously pick up on what they see and try to duplicate it on themselves. Thus choose wisely what your children are exposed to. Talk to them about good role models which they can follow.
8. Create a “Safety Network”.
Children should have access to number of people around them whom they know they can trust and turn to when the need be. This can include an older sibling, grandparents, an aunt or a teacher. This group of people can form your children’s “safety network”, the people they can turn to whenever they feel threatened or unsafe.
Making Children Understand The Difference Between “Safe Touch” and “Unsafe Touch”
1. Safe Touch:
Tell your child “safe touch” makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Explain this to them with the help of real life examples.
“Mama gives you a big warm bear hug when you wake up in the morning.”
“Baba tucks you in bed and kisses you good night.”
“Grandmother seats you in her lap and reads you stories.”
“You hold your friends’ hands while playing.”
A safe touch is the kind of touch which makes you feel loved and secure and lets you know you are cared for.
2. Unsafe Touch:
Again explain this concept with the help of examples. A touch that makes you feel uncomforttable, unpleasant or even hurt is an unsafe touch. For example when a sibling hits you, you are pushed by a friend or someone tries to touch you in your private parts without any reason at all and then asks you to keep it a secret. This means you are in danger and you need to follow through the safety rules.
Safety Rules To Teach Your Children
- Tell your children when someone tries to touch them in an inappropriate manner they say NO in the loudest possible way. This is a dangerous situation and they should run and try to get away from the person as soon as possible.
- Just like someone can’t touch them, they shouldn’t touch someone else’s private parts too.
- Apart from the above, they should also walk away if someone tries to show them any inappropriate content on phones or talks in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
- Immmediately tell someone on the “Safety Network”.
- Tell them they don’t have to be scared of that person and neither should they feel bad about themselves if something happens to them.
Always be on a lookout…
If you have read stories about child abuse, it upsets you to know many times a child molestor is someone a parent would trust with the safety of their children. Therefore:
- Better be vigilant now than be sorry later.
- Trust your child and listen to their story.
- If you have tutors coming to teach your children, make sure they teach your children in a place where you can easily keep an eye on them.
- Don’t let children play behind closed doors. They tend to get naughty when no one is overlooking them.
Make Dua for your children
No one can deny the importance of dua of a parent for their child. The Prophet (SAW) used to recite the following dua over his grandsons Hassan and Hussain:
أُعِيذُكَ بِكَلِمَاتِ اللهِ التَّامَّةِ مِنْ كُلِّ شَيْطَانٍ ، وَهَامَّةٍ ، وَمِنْ كُلِّ عَيْنٍ لَامَّةٍ
A’oodhu bi kalimaat Allaah al-taammah min kulli shaytaanin wa haammah wa min kulli ‘aynin laammah
“I seek refuge in the perfect words of Allah, from every devil and every poisonous reptile, and from every bad eye.” [Bukhari]
Teach your children the supplications for protection.
Have your children memorise the supplications for protection so when you are not around them they can recite them for themselves. Apart from the ma’uzatain (surah An-Nas and surah Al-Falaq), ayat Al-Kursi, teach them this very simple dua for protection:
A’oodhu bi kalimaat Allaah al-taammaati min sharri maa khalaq
“I seek refuge in the perfect words of Allah from the evil of that which He has created.” [Muslim]
Problem With “Good Touch, Bad Touch”
“Good tooch, bad touch” is one of the common phrases used to prevent children against sexual abuse. But I feel it’s very problematic because:
- Accept it or not but children do feel sexual arousal as well. It’s a part of normal physiological development. That’s the reason when children are becoming aware of themselves and their bodies they tend to touch their parts just because of the sensation they experience from touching themselves.
- With that being said, this in no way means that sexual abuse is a child’s fault. Pedophiles and sexual prepetrator might very well take advantage of the point mentioned above while grooming a child to continually keep assaulting him.
- “Good touch,Bad touch” might send out a confusing message to children that if the touch is bad touch, why does it feel pleasurable? That inappropriate touch then becomes a “good touch” to them.
- The perpetrator while grooming the child might also make the child believe that they deserve the abuse because they are “bad”. In both the above cases the child may not want to tell about his abuse causing the abuse to continue.
- With this understanding, I think the whole “good touch, bad touch” construct needs to be re-examined. It should be better categiorized as “safe and unsafe” touch. Children should be explicitly told about their bodies that no matter how it feels, such physical contact is dangerous for their well being.
Children are a beautiful gift and amanah entrusted to us by Allah. Just like anything else we need to teach them about their bodies in an explicit yet an age appropriate way. We should be the first seat of information for our children on anything. Hence it’s very important to keep the line of communications open between us and our children.
As much as we want our children to be safe, it’s also important we equip them well so they are able handle any unsafe situation that comes their way.
With that said, little children do have fertile imaginations and tend to make up stories but it’s very important that we as parents pay attention to their stories and discern what’s true and not. Our children need to know that of all the people in the world, we as parents will trust them and will always support and protect them.