Ways parents can support a child with disability feeling safe
We now know from many sources, that…. “creating awareness among children is one of the best ways to protect them” Jennifer Rankins, Minister for Education and Child Development, Government of South Australia, (2013).
We also know there are many ways parents can support a child with disability feeling safe. Teaching children about their bodies, their development and their sexuality can start from a young age.
These lessons act as building blocks that can helping children learn about many ways they can be safe. Our website http://growingup.pep-talk.org.au provides more information about these topics.
We have learnt about ways parents can support a child feeling safe from a number of sources – from parents, from experts in the field and resources. We would like to particularly acknowledge the contribution of Margie Buttriss for the information in this following section
There are a number of strategies you can do to reinforce the messages that:
- children and young people have a right to feel safe at all times and
- if something is wrong, they need to tell someone they trust.
Ways to keep your child safe include:
- Teach your child from a young age about their bodies and which areas are private.
- The best place to start body safety with any child is at home. Teach and model consent from the earliest stages of life.
- Use correct body terminology.
- Support a child’s right to choose how they interact physically with others – for instance they do not have to hug or kiss grandparents or ‘always do what every adult tells them’.
- Explain what is good touch and bad touch. Talk about how to say ‘no’ to touch that makes them feel uncomfortable by using assertive body language and voice. To reinforce this message, children should not be required to kiss or be kissed by relatives, friends or acquaintances if they do not want to.
- Teach them about relationships and personal boundaries, public/private behaviours, places, body parts.
- Encourage them to communicate with you about anything that is worrying them.
- Explain what your child may feel in an unhealthy relationship, and encourage them to let you know if they are:
- being pressured to do things they don’t want to do
- feeling scared, frightened or being bullied
- being criticised or humiliated
- feeling bad about who they are
- being controlled and have to watch what they do or say
- feeling upset, confused or angry about something that has happened
- been hurt, or receiving threats to hurt them
- being told to keep secrets
- Provide information about being safe in a way your child can understand. This might include using symbols and pictures as well as words. Ensure that language about these topics are incorporated into their communication systems. You may want to work with a speech pathologist to set this up.
- Make sure all the people in the child’s circle use the same terminology
- Information needs to be repeated a number of times – even daily or weekly at first, and in a number of ways. Always include ‘hands-on’ activities as well as spoken and visual. Ask them to rephrase or give an example to make sure they have understood.
- Remember: go slow, be flexible, be clear.
- Teach and give your child permission to say ‘no’ when someone – anyone – makes them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable.
- You can explain to your child to be aware if there is some deviation or difference from the usual routine that doesn’t feel right. For example if the child receives continence support, they may be wiped or touched differently to what usually happens, and it doesn’t feel right
- Help your child to understand and identify who they can trust and go to if they feel unsafe. This may include developing a ‘safety network’ with them. This means identifying the people they can talk to if something is worrying them or making them feel unsafe.
- Having an open and honest relationship with your child within the bounds that they will understand will make it easier for them to talk to you if things go wrong.
- Different children have different needs. Social stories are useful, as is role-playing various scenarios. Concrete examples – images, videos, anatomically correct dolls, 3D models, body posters with removable swimwear or underwear for teaching about private areas of the body, puzzles and body cut-outs from art and craft shops for ‘at-home’ activities may be useful.
- There are a number of good story books, body safety songs and games for children, apps, as well as books for parents, carers and educators. There are also many posters, games and other resources available.
- Older children may have different needs, for example education and monitoring internet use, chat rooms and social networking sites. They may also need help learning about relationships, dating and going out on their own.
- It is a balance as you give your child the tools to protect themselves while also encouraging them (particularly older ones) to learn about making their own choices, taking appropriate and healthy risks while also being kept safe. Children with disability need to be allowed to be assertive, confident and take the same risks as their peers and siblings.
It’s also important to not underestimate a child’s ability to understand and retain information if it’s presented in a manner most appropriate to their needs.
You might want to make a poster that is put up somewhere prominent in your house: Remember:
- It’s not OK for someone to touch you when you say ‘no’.
- It’s not OK for someone to make you feel bad about yourself.
- It’s not OK for someone to say things about you that are not very nice.
- It’s not OK for someone to yell at you.
- It’s not OK if you feel frightened.
- It’s not OK for someone to hit you.