INFORMATION FOR adults
who care about
Whether a child is a five year-old kindergartener or an eight year-old 2nd grader, there are many ways you can help keep the kids in your life safe while they grow into healthy, wonderful people.
We separated out tips and ideas by topic below - but they are all connected! You may talk about one of these topics and then find yourself also talking about feelings, healthy sexuality, bullying, and more. So much of this kind of prevention work is about establishing these protective skills and supports that help across all parts of life. The bonus is they also happen to be protective factors when it comes to sexual violence!
Below we provide some tips and language you can use and resources right now. As always, we are just an email away if you don’t find what you’re looking for or if we can help another way.
If you have questions about how we decided what resources or content to include here, you can take a look at our philosophy on prevention here.
It makes sense that bullying prevention helps keep kids safe. Did you know that helping your child understand and respond to bullying is also part of preventing sexual violence?
It sure is! Studies show that there are connections between bullying and sexual violence, especially when bullying is homophobic.
As always, it’s important to remember that adults are first and foremost responsible for keeping kids safe. And, we know that bullying happens when adults aren’t around, so it's important to support them however you can.
There are many ways you can talk with children in your life about bullying. Here are some tips!
Help your child identify bullying.
From a young age, the urge to be part of a group is real. Sometimes that is based on shared interests and sometimes it’s about excluding others. Help your kid see that excluding others is not the kind, empathetic thing to do. Talk about different ways people might not be kind to one another and what your kid can do in response. You could ask questions like, “Have you ever seen someone be mean to someone else? How do you think that person felt? How would you feel? How could you help?”
Model working through conflict
Families who work through conflict in a peaceful way are part of what it takes to prevent bullying and all kinds of sexual violence, including child sexual abuse. There are many different styles to work through conflict. The key is accepting others’ emotions, making sure everyone is heard, and encouraging everyone to use kind words and body language.
Talk through safe ways your child could help someone who
There are many ways to help people. This could include causing a distraction, saying, “That's not kind,” asking the person who is bullied if they’re okay, and telling an adult. Help your kid understand that indirect responses like telling an adult or checking in after are helpful! The more you talk through these options, the more likely your child will remember them in the moment.
If your kid engages in potentially bullying behavior, address it.
If your kid comes home saying something like, “There was a girl at school today who had really stinky clothes on and we were laughing,” ask some questions: Can we think about reasons why someone would wear clothes that don’t smell good? Why was it funny? How do you think laughing made her feel? Using open-ended questions may help your child understand the problems with the behavior.
Encourage your child to include others.
Children with adults who model empathy and compassion for others may be more likely to include others who may feel left out. Talk through what you would do if you saw someone feeling left out: How would you know they felt that way? How would you approach them? What words would you use? This models behavior and language for your child so they can include others, too!
Kids who are raised in a family where empathy is taught, modeled, and encouraged is important prevention work for bullying, sexual violence, and more. Researchers are clear that kindness isn’t about good manners. It’s about empathy: when you understand and care about how someone else is feeling.
You can teach empathy to elementary school children through everyday moments.
Help kids recognize others’ feelings.
Narrate how others may be feeling. You can do this with a soft tone and with a hug so no one feels ashamed. How you might talk about it depends on if your kid is younger or older: “Hey buddy. Ben seemed upset when you took that toy away/when you pushed him as you were running. He seems really sad. We don’t want to hurt other people.” Then you can ask your child how they would feel in the same situation. Ask them what Ben might need to feel better.
Encourage children to respond when someone is hurt physically or emotionally.
Whether someone bumps their head on a cabinet or is hurt by someone else, teach your child to stop and think about what is happening. This builds empathy and it also helps teach them early that they can be an engaged bystander. You can say things in the moment like: “X character in the movie looks really sad that the other kids left her out! What would you do to help her?”
CONSENT & BOUNDARIES
Everyone has a role to play in teaching children about boundaries and consent. We recommend modeling safe boundaries and consent in many different ways. However, you might be thinking “What?! That’s not appropriate! Kids don’t know anything about sex!”
Consent and boundaries aren’t just about sex. They are the basis for healthy, safe relationships of all kinds. You can model consent and boundaries without approaching the topic of sex. This can include:
Ask about photos posted to social media.
Respectfully ask family members to check in with you before they post a photo of your child to social media. If you snap a cute photo of your child, you could say something like: “This is a super cute photo of you and I’d love to share it with our friends and family. Would it be okay if I send it/post it to social media/post it to our shared family album? What do you think?” This helps build your own skills around consent and also gives your kid some agency in deciding what is on the internet about them.
Tell your child that they’re in charge of their body.
Talk to your kid early and often about who is in charge of their body: “You are in charge of your body and who touches it.” You can offer something along the lines of: “Unless it’s about keeping you healthy or safe, you can say no to someone touching you. Tell me anytime someone makes you uncomfortable.”
Ask your kid before you give them a hug, or kiss, or rub their back. Respect their response if they say no. (We’ve been there when that “no” stings your heart a bit!) This helps model respect for consent and helps them grow confidence in talking about what they need.
Help them understand
If you notice your kid hugging another person who seems uncomfortable, you can help them understand those cues. You might say, “Do you notice how Allie is pulling away a bit? That might mean she doesn’t want a hug right now. Let’s give her some space.”
Learn and follow your kid’s cues.
Follow your child’s cues for what they find uncomfortable: “It seems like you’re not quite ready to go play with your friends. I’m going to talk with Sarah’s mom and you’re welcome to sit with me.” This helps model for them that not immediately engaging is okay and you respect their feelings. It also helps signal your family’s boundary to other adults, and helps grow your child’s confidence in you as their safe person.
Set and respect your family boundaries.
Talk openly about how everyone in your family must be able to privately dress, take a bath or shower, or do other personal things. If anyone in the household does not respect these rules, an adult should clearly tell them the family rules. This could sound like: “Amelia, in this house we let people have their private time. We need to respect Mommy’s privacy when she is in the bathroom.”
You can also reaffirm the rule with everyone else later: “I want to be sure everyone understands one of our family rules. Who can tell me what we do when someone is in the bathroom? That’s right! We let people have private time!”
When they say stop, listen.
When you’re having tickle time or playing around and your kid says “stop!” or “no!” stop immediately. Then say, “Okay! You said stop, so I’m stopping!” Both stopping and saying that you’re stopping helps identify that you’ve done what they asked. It also helps kids understand that you will listen to them and respect them, and models behavior for them if they are playing and a friend says “stop.”
Respect and support your kid’s boundaries with others.
Along those same lines - what if Aunt Meg wants a hug and your kid isn’t having it? Respect your kid’s boundaries and be supportive. When kids are forced to show affection, they get the message that they’re not in control of their own body. You can offer some alternatives: “Seems like you’re not sure about a hug! That’s okay. Do you want to wave or give Aunt Meg a high-five instead?” If Aunt Meg still goes in for the hug, you can gently but firmly say, “We don’t make Robbie hug anyone. Sometimes he’s just not into it!” Follow up with Aunt Meg later if you need to.
Step in if someone isn’t respecting your kid’s boundaries.
Sometimes enforcing boundaries is uncomfortable. AND it’s important to show your child that you will stick up for their boundaries and teach them how to do it. If your child is crying or seems uncomfortable with another adult, it’s your job to step in and say something like, “Our family’s rule is that no one touches anyone else’s body unless it’s about health or safety. Seems like Annie is uncomfortable. I’m going to pick her up/pull her aside with me now.” You can follow up later with the adult in question if need be.
SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD'S FEELINGS
When you show your kid that their feelings are welcome, you show them that feelings are okay. You show them that they can trust you no matter what kind of feelings or behavior they’re bringing to you. It helps build emotional health, which is a protective factor against sexual violence.
Building trust around feelings early can help if
your child needs to tell you about an unsafe or uncomfortable situation later.
Here are a few things you can do:
Help your child name feelings.
Notice your kid’s cues and ask them how they are feeling: “Are you hungry? Sometimes you get grumpy right before you notice you’re hungry!” or “Woah, buddy…. It seems like you’re pretty sad. Do you want to sit with me?” This helps children name feelings as they grow and their feelings become more complex.
Thank them for telling you.
As your child shows you or tells you about their feelings, thank them for telling you: “Thank you for telling me you're mad. That’s really helpful for me to know.”
Assure them that their feelings matter and you’re not going anywhere.
This is especially helpful if you’re in meltdown or tantrum territory. You can say something like, “I hear that you’re really mad right now. It’s okay to have big feelings. I’m here for you. I’m not scared of your feelings.” And just sit. This reinforces for them that you can handle their feelings, which is important at this stage of their life and as they grow.
Follow up later.
Sometimes big feelings mean it’s not a great learning moment. You can always follow up later with things like: “You were really upset earlier. What can I do to help when you feel that way?” or “Sometimes I get really mad when I feel like people aren’t listening to me. Was that part of what made you mad earlier?” These things help your kid feel seen, lets them know you want to help and normalize their big feelings.
Aside from the potential for inadvertently making your kid feel ashamed, teasing about opposite gender friendships could make your child feel really confused or uncomfortable. It also assumes your child is straight. This could be challenging for them as they figure out their sexuality. Either way, whatever they feel is okay as long as they feel safe.
Find small ways to connect.
Feeling connected at home, at school, and in their community is part of what helps protect children from both experiencing and perpetrating sexual violence. Being available and talking about feelings help foster connection. You can also connect with them in small ways throughout the day by saying something like, “I love spending time with you,” or asking “what was the best thing that happened today?”
Part of keeping your kid safe of course relates to their physical body. We do what we can to manage the harm that could come their way. We teach them that they need to look both ways before crossing the street. We talk about brushing teeth twice a day to stay healthy and strong. Talking about bodies is one way to help keep our kids safe.
And, we want to be clear: it is NEVER up to a child to prevent abuse. It’s up to the adults in a child’s life, and up to all of us as a community. Here are a couple of helpful hints about body safety:
Teach your child the proper names of body parts.
It’s helpful for kids to know that their leg is a leg if they need to tell you their leg hurts. They also need to know what to call their genitals. Help them use words like vagina, vulva, penis, and scrotum. This gives your child the correct language to understand and ask questions about their body. Teaching them names calmly and confidently can also help them tell you about any kind of behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.
For younger children, teach concrete rules.
You can say something like: “Please talk with me if anyone - our family, a friend, or anyone else - touches your private parts.” Repeat this every now and then to help reinforce it.
As your child gets older, teach them how to wash their own genitals.
You may still need to help! You can encourage your child by saying, “Part of learning to love your body is learning to take care of it. That includes washing and making sure your body is healthy and clean!”
Ask your child what feels good in their body and what doesn’t.
You can ask them how they feel when they are hungry or full, excited or bored, sleepy or awake, and more. Ask your child how it feels in their body when they’re sad or happy or mad.
The idea of our kids as sexual beings can be a tough one, especially when they’re young. However, children are curious about sex and sexual feelings and it’s up to us to be a helpful source of accurate and information. Healthy sexuality is the ability to freely and responsibly understand, enjoy, and control your sexual and reproductive experiences. It relates to body image and a person’s sense of self. A culture that encourages healthy sexuality is a culture that helps reduce risk factors and increase protective factors associated with sexual violence perpetration and victimization.
We know that part of what helps prevent sexual abuse is changing societal norms about sex. This starts with all of us. Here are some things you can do!
Know what is age-appropriate for your child.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between what is normal sexual behavior and what isn’t. This great resource helps break sexual behaviors down by age.
Answer questions about sex and bodies honestly.
The more we can answer our kids’ questions and talk about bodies and sex confidently, the less shame kids may feel about those topics. If you’re not sure how to answer a question or need to think about how to word it, it’s okay to say something like, “Hmm. That’s a great question! Let me think about how to explain it and we can talk about it later.” Just make sure to follow up!
Talk about bodies in a positive way.
When you’re talking about bodies with your child, you can talk about how everyone’s body is good and special. Bodies are part of what helps us do everything we want to do! You can talk about how our bodies - and everyone else’s - deserve respect. This includes how we treat our own bodies. This helps build a foundation for you to have deeper conversations about bodies as your child’s body goes through changes as they get older.
Respecting different gender expressions is part of healthy sexuality, too!
Leaving room for different gender expressions can help kids see the world in a sexually healthy way. You can talk about how some people are girls, some are boys, and some are neither, somewhere in between, or both. You can also encourage kids to play with all kinds of toys instead of limiting them to “boys toys” or “girls toys.” We can talk about how clothes don’t have to be “boys clothes” or “girls clothes” and that it’s great for people to wear what they feel good and comfortable in.
Encourage your child to think outside of traditional gender roles.
At some point during elementary school, your child may come home and say something like, “Girls can’t be pilots!” or “Boys can’t be nurses!” You may find yourself trying to explain that no matter what gender you are, you can do anything! As always, asking questions may be your best bet: “Why can’t girls be pilots?” You can also work on these issues a little at a time.
Encourage your child to make their own decisions about their clothes.
This is part of learning that their body is their own - and they can have a little fun, too! If your child is a young elementary schooler, you could offer a few choices instead of the entirety of their wardrobe.
Online Safety & Responsibility
Ongoing online safety conversations are critical if your child is online (on apps, playing games, watching videos, doing school work, and more). This is especially important if they are online without you sitting with them and engaging as well (we are parents, too - we get it!). Even if you have good parental controls on the devices and platforms they use, it’s important to help your child understand what is safe and what is not online.
As Melissa Pintor Carnagey from Sex Positive Families notes:
"Keeping children safer online takes more than setting up parental controls.
The goal is to mentor more than monitor."
A couple of these approaches may be helpful as you navigate online safety with your child.
Be clear about where you stand with online bullying.
Much like conversations about in-person bullying, be clear that online bullying isn’t okay and that it’s important to support people who are bullied. You can also talk with your child about how online bullying is different: it’s harder to escape from it, it can happen anonymously, it can be shared with a lot of people quickly, and the content could be something that stays online forever. Netsafe has great resources about dealing with online bullying, helping a friend, and rebuilding confidence after being bullied.
Manage screen time thoughtfully.
Manage screen time through conversations about what they do when they are online. What videos are they watching? What games are they playing? Who are they talking to? Talk about what makes sense for them to do what they enjoy online and how that relates to your family's rules and expectations. Coming to an agreement after a thoughtful conversation helps gain their buy-in. This is a helpful resource to help you with screen time conversations.
Set tech-related expectations and encourage ongoing conversations.
Set tech-related expectations early and revisit them often to encourage ongoing conversations about what is safe to do on laptops, tablets, phones, and other devices. This could include no phones at the dinner table or in bedrooms at night, which sites and apps are appropriate to use, and never sharing usernames and passwords outside of trusted adults we know.
Talk about digital citizenship.
Raising strong, connected kids is about teaching your kid to be a good person in the world. Similarly, a good digital citizen is someone who uses technology safely and responsibly. Think about what it means to you to be a good digital citizen, and talk with your child about what that means to them. This video from Common Sense Media and the associated resources are great ways to kick off the conversation with your child. (You need to create a free account to access the resources.)
Make it clear that you are always there to help them.
Many kids - even in elementary school - try to manage online issues because they’re worried their parents will take away their devices. Let your kids know that if they have a problem you are there to help them and not punish them. You can also enlist other trusted adults to be a safe person your child can talk to about online challenges. The key here is that there is at least one person they will talk to if they’re having a problem.
Consider a family online safety plan.
Just like other kinds of conversations about safety, conversations about online safety have to be ongoing and encourage the kind of behavior you want to see. Talk about what it is to be a good person online. Netsafe has a good online safety plan you can use to jumpstart the conversation to make your own or to talk about, print, and sign. Common Sense Media also has a good family media agreement to check out.