Child welfare experts encourage parents to help their children develop a safety network; identify five adults they might talk to if something bad happens to them, whether it is inappropriate touching (or worse), or other fears about safety. The five adults in this safety network could be parents, a teacher, a family friend, an aunt, a grandparent or the family doctor. Whoever it is, children need to feel safe.
Children are vulnerable to abuse by adults because they are naturally trusting and need affection and admiration. Abuse occurs most often by those the child knows and trusts, not strangers. This makes the ultimate effect of the abuse much more painful. Child abuse cannot continue without the benefit of deceit, secrecy and intimidation. If children are approached before they learn anything about social mores regarding sexual behavior (touches of private parts), they are easily drawn in. Children who are abused often get direct instructions not to tell anyone and sometimes these instructions are accompanied by threats or predictions of dire consequences for the child, the family, or even the abuser.
The safety network has been used as a training tool for protective behaviors on body safety for a long time. As your child becomes older (3+) help them to identify their safety network. The safety network is effective and fun to do with your child even at home. Basically you trace around a hand (an adult hand is a good idea as it is large), then on the fingers of the hand the child can write the names of people they can talk to if they felt unsafe or scared.. It should be people who will listen, believe and take appropriate action.
If you are doing this activity with your child, remember to guide them to include adults who are both male and female, someone in the home, people outside the home and people outside the family. A good mix of people in the safety network will mean your child has a range of people they know they can talk to about anything.
In the featured image for this article I have used my 3 year old nephew’s safety network. Mum and Dad reign supreme of course, followed closely by Teacher Agnes (he is at the age where nothing the teacher ever says is wrong, and this is his first playgroup teacher). Fourth on his list is Aunty Fay; his favorite aunt who is a longtime family friend. Fifth is Valentine, his aunt as well who “understands him” – she speaks to him in “threenage language” and their conversations can last as long as an hour!
Sometimes younger children want to include people or things that you know can’t actually help but they want them on there. This might be a sibling, a toy or in my nephew’s case favorite cartoon characters (Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sophia the First and PJ Masks). You can use the space in the palm of the hand to write that person’s name. But it is important to explain to children that they can ‘practice’ talking to the people on the palm but it’s the people on the fingers that can help.
Go on ahead, get a piece of paper, trace out your palm and do this fun and important safety exercise with your child. It will give you a better insight on who your child trusts as well and they will form part of your extended safety network as a parent.