Step Nine: Educate children about personal safety
No child abuse prevention plan is complete without a plan to reach out to the youth of the church with education. With education, youth are more likely to know when something is wrong. They will feel more empowered to disclose abuse and get help.
Talking about body autonomy with children may feel awkward and uncomfortable, and this is a normal reaction. As it becomes a regular occurrence, that feeling will lessen. Jesus in his teachings is clear that children are important to him. Feeling a little discomfort is a small price to pay for keeping children safe.
How do you educate the youth in church? Education is an ongoing process that occurs throughout the year and is included in every youth program. The age and maturity of children will guide the topics and discussions held.
Some Bible stories lend themselves to discussions about body autonomy and personal safety. The creation story is a perfect time to talk about how each person is uniquely made. Discussions about commandments like the 5th and 6th can incorporate God’s desire for how our bodies are treated, along with how to treat others. Church leaders can actively search for opportunities to talk about personal safety and encourage others to do the same.
- Talk about feelings and encourage children to express how they feel. Being able to identify feeling sad, angry, or scared is foundational to being able to disclose abuse. It creates connection with children.
- Provide information that is appropriate to the child’s level of understanding.
- Let children know that they can have a say about what touches they want and do not want.
- Assure children that you are ready to listen is they ever want to talk about something that makes them feel wrong.
- Discuss boundaries with children.
- Teach children to respect other people and their boundaries.
- Taking Care of My Body is a resource developed by WELS for use with children.
- Talk about boundaries, how to establish and enforce them, and that each person has their own boundaries.
- Talk about secrets. Some things are okay to keep secret. However, anything that make the child feel wrong or “bad” can be shared with an adult they feel is safe.
- Build a sense of personal worth and confidence as a child of God.
- How to recognize signs of anxiety and depression.
- Discuss the difference between tattling a friend’s secret and telling a responsible adult when someone has been hurt or threatened.
- Engage in positive communication with teens, avoiding threatening, ordering, criticizing, or lecturing.
- Talk about safely using the internet and boundaries to put in place.
- Empower teens to trust their instincts.
Empowering youth starts with respect for them and honoring the boundaries they establish. By encouraging children to establish and maintain boundaries, you help them created a first line of defense against abuse
Understanding Children’s Sexual Behaviors by Toni Cavanagh Johnson, Ph.D.
God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb. This picture book gives adults a foundation for talking to children about how their body should be treated.