How To Talk To Children About Personal Safety

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    Bracha Goetz

    Posted (Jewish Press) Oct 27 2010

    Here are signs to protect our children from danger:

    In 95% of cases, the molester’s not a stranger.

    He’s someone you know and respect. He’s disarming.

    He is drawn to children. And he’s awfully charming.

    This is a handy little jingle for parents to keep in mind, but even though it’s short, my rhyme is not for little children. In order to adequately prepare our children we must first be aware of the red flags ourselves. Then we need to schedule an “annual check-up” with our children and clearly and calmly bring up the subject of personal safety.

    What would be a good day on the Jewish calendar for us to discuss this safety topic with our children? It’s useful to pick a particular day that comes once a year, so we’ll be more apt not to forget to do it. (We don’t want to discuss it too often, as we do not want to instill excessive fear in them, but we do want them to remain cautious.) Holidays that require substantial preparation are not appropriate times for such a discussion, but how about Lag B’Omer? The warm weather will have arrived, so it could be a good time to remember to have a yearly frank, yet upbeat conversation about this important safety issue – maybe even right along with reminders about fire and pool safety rules.

    But if Lag B’Omer has long since gone by, (as it has now) and we have failed to have a prevention education with our children, it is essential for parents to cover this topic with their children before camp, before school, before anytime they will be in a setting away from us.

    Parents can have a safety talk about the prevention of molestation with children as young as three, with age-appropriate adjustments being made gradually as maturity and understanding grows, year by year. We do this just as we would discuss any other safety hazard, with some increased detail for our older children.

    We can start off by telling our three-year-olds that nobody should ever touch them in the areas that are covered by a bathing suit. The only exceptions would be a parent or a doctor, who may need to check those areas for health reasons and put cream on a rash in those private areas – but even then only with a parent or older family member in the room. If anybody wants to touch them there at any other time, for any other reason, they should say “no” to that person, even if that person is a family member, babysitter, teacher or counselor. And if somebody has already touched them in their private areas, they should tell you about it. We can tell them that if anybody ever touches them in a way that doesn’t feel right, they can ask the person to stop, try to get away as fast as they can and tell someone about it immediately.

    Another conversation, at age four, could remind the child of the basics that were discussed the previous year and add that nobody being allowed to touch them may include older siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles. Neighbors and family friends may not touch the areas that need to be covered by a bathing suit either. And not only should nobody touch their private parts – nobody should touch any part of their body in any way that doesn’t feel right. If a touch feels strange to them, and they are not sure if it is wrong or right, they should come and ask us about it. We really want to know. Even if they feel silly asking us about it, we very much want them to ask us. We can explain that there are good touches and bad touches. And we can encourage them to ask us about any touching that they are not sure about as well.

    At age five, we can tell them that they will probably have some questions for us after we talk with them about personal safety, and we hope they will feel comfortable enough to ask their questions at any time. Too much information is overwhelming to a child, so we want to try to keep each annual conversation about this topic short and simple. We can remind them annually that if anybody ever tries to touch them in a way that feels scary or wrong, even if it’s just a soft, stroking of their arms, some tickling or picking them up, they can tell the person doing it to stop and then they can let us know about it.

    We can also add on, at whatever age we feel it’s appropriate, that nobody should ask them to touch or look at their private parts either. And every year there can be a reminder of this safety rule as well. We can ask them, “What if someone wanted to touch you and said to keep it a secret?” And wait for their responses. We can remind them that secrets like that are bad and dangerous and those are secrets that they need to tell us.

    Another important point that could be added one year would be that somebody who has been treating them nicely for a while by giving them extra attention, treats, money or gifts, may gradually or quite suddenly start acting in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. We can explain that this could be very confusing, as a child might feel that if the person has been so nice to them, that they should go along with whatever confusing touches the person may have started giving them. It’s very helpful to explain the typical “grooming” process in this way, so the growing child will at least be familiar with this possibility. With this awareness, a child or teen is much more apt to respond to inappropriate touching as an unacceptable real danger if, G-d forbid, his safety is ever jeopardized in this way.

    As the children grow older, even through their teens, we can annually add to their basic training by saying that if anybody ever asks them to watch or do things that feel scary or wrong, we hope that they will not feel embarrassed to tell us. We can let them know that it’s best to tell us right away, but even if they didn’t tell us right away, whenever they do tell us, we still very much want to hear about it because if something disturbing or frightening may have happened to them,it was not their fault. This needs to be emphasized, calmly and clearly, once a year.

    It would also be helpful to explain to an older child that confusing touches can lead to holding on for a long time to confusing feelings. Some children may have even enjoyed certain aspects of improper interactions, like the extra attention it brings and they do not need to feel ashamed of having this mixture of feelings. The best thing for their neshamas, however, is to not keep any kind of confusing feelings locked up within them. Great relief can come from talking about any disturbing secrets they may have with someone they feel they can trust. We need to reassure them that such burdens don’t have to be carried by them alone. We can also let them know that if they ever feel that they have something to share that they do not feel they can tell us, we can help them find an appropriate professional with whom they can speak.

    In age-appropriate ways, as our children grow, we need to reaffirm to them on a yearly basis that victims of abuse are not responsible for the abuse. They need to tell an adult they trust about what happened, and continue telling until someone takes action to stop it.

    By teaching our children how to guard the precious bodies that Hashem has given them, we will not be abdicating our responsibility to them. It is still our responsibility to protect them, but this annual training will make it that much more possible for us to fulfill our parental obligations. In helping to protect our children from molestation, we are guarding not only their vulnerable bodies; we are also shielding their innocent souls.

    Bracha Goetz is the author of twelve children’s books, including What Do You See in Your Neighborhood? Aliza in MitzvahLand, and The Invisible Book. She also serves on the Executive Board of the national organization, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, and coordinates a Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister program in Baltimore, Maryland.


    I know that with my little brother & sister, my mother sat them down and told them exactly what you have written up there: that no one can look or touch their private areas besides their parent and doctor. She reinforced it with them a few times, and when they went to the doctor for their yearly check up, she had the doctor reinforce it with them as well. This was at age 4, after an almost-scary incident; that is when she started talking to the kids about it and telling them that even if the person who tries to look/touch tells you scary things like ‘if you tell your mother, I’ll burn down your house’ etc, you should ALWAYS ALWAYS tell her anyway and she will not be upset.

    I think that’s part of what you have to tell a little kid when you prepare them: that the molester will tell them things like ‘If you tell your parent, I will…’ and you just have to ignore it and tell your parent anyway. A lot of times kids won’t tell because they are afraid of the molester hurting them or someone else they know.


    And TSA employees.


    My son’s kindergarten teacher last year was teaching the 4-5 year old boys about personal safety and had a good line. She said, if someone does any of the above things, even if he/she tells you not to tell your parents, you must right away tell your parents and then you don’t have to worry because you won’t have to see that person again.

    I thought that was a smart, age appropriate way of encouraging children to tell their parents and not be afraid of the repercussions. My son now knows that if he tells me, I will keep him safe.


    LOL @ Popa!


    I pulled no punches on this one. I told my kids before heading off to camp that if anyone touched them in a place that’s normally kept coveredm they were to call me ASAP, even if its shabbos, and I’d be there in under 3 hours.

    No second chances, no tell the head counslor. Call me or call 911, if you can’t locate your calling card. And if the person tells you, “if you tell your parents, I’ll kill them and you” keep in mind, this is the standard bluff. Scream for help, and call me next.

    Needless to say, it never came to pass, but I think a huge help if the fact that they were preped. My hunch is, molesters scope out kids who have not been preped by thier parents, and zero in on the loose ends.

    Like most things, forwarned is forearmed.

    And for the record, when they went off as older kids and staff, they were told what precautions to take to be sure they are not in a position to be framed. The camp read them the riot act as well, but they heard it from me too.


    thats what needs to be done


    I agree, it is extremely important to tell your kids that if anyone ever says “this is our secret don’t tell mommy or daddy” that is the que to immediately tell Mommy and Daddy. The only secret they are allowed to keep is if Mommy or Daddy are buying a birthday present or making a party. Any other secrets they MUST always share with Mommy. If anyone tries to convince them otherwise then they are probably evil people.

    I also tell parents that after pre-school when there are 3 morahs in the room, teach children that they are NOT allowed to sit on anyone’s lap. And if the teacher or the Rebbe ask them to they should simply say “my Mommy doesn’t let”. That should be enough of a warning to anyone.

    In addition, let them put their hands in a circle in front of themselves and teach them, “this is your own daled amos, your own private space. Don’t let anyone get too close to you that you feel uncomfortable. If they get too close, into your space back away and even run away if you have to. If anyone wants you to be alone with them scream, don’t go anywhere alone with even someone you know even if they said Mommy or Daddy said. Teach them to shake hands with the teacher or Rebbe instead of accepting a hug or even a pat on the back.

    I also tell parents to put their cell numbers in the child’s coat, shoe, knapsack and anywhere the child can easily find it. So if someones says “Mommy told me to pick you up” they can say give me your cell phone so I can call mommy and ask her”. Molesters will back away from SMART kids and kids that are prepared to fight them off.


    BP Totty I totally agree with you. My kids camp sends home a paper every year before the summer that we read to the kids. It basicly tells them the same thing that you tell the kids. Unfortunately it is a big issue that the kids are afraid to tell someone when it happens to them we havto keep telling them that they arent doing anything wrong and they shouldnt be afraid to tell a counsler or parent.


    We had this discussion with our kids when they started camp. We told them the same things as written previously. ANYONE touches you ANYWHERE at any time, get your calling card, and call home. Cant find the card, call collect. It doesnt matter what time it is. Cant reach us, try your grandparents, uncles and aunts. Try until you reach someone. If someone threatens to hurt you, no matter who they are, call 911.


    BP Totty

    Azoiy darf men tein! You said it the way it has to be said.


    Also please understand that a NURSE is a mandatory reporter and if she does not report she can lose her license. So after calling you tell them to go to the NURSE and tell her. Yes, put her in a position where she has to call the police and let her know before hand that you informed your children that if they are touched inappropriately that they are instructed to inform her and as a mandatory reporter you expect her to report. That means that YOU are putting the camp on notice that you will not stand for anything less than full disclosure.


    well written. kol hakavod.


    Aries, well-said.


    BP Totty – You said it great!



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