Active 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. It starts from a young age teaching children about their bodies, their development and their sexuality. These act as building blocks to then introduce helping them learn about many ways they can be safe. We will be including further sections on the website specifically on these areas. Please keep an eye out for them.
We have learnt about ways parents can support a child feeling safe 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 undertake with your child to reinforce the messages that:
- they have a right to feel safe at all times and
- if something is wrong, they need to tell someone they trust.
Parents of children with disability can support their child to learn how to feel safe by:
- 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; from the very earliest stages of life – with teaching and modelling consent, using correct body terminology, and supporting 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 talk or communicate to you about anything that is worrying them. It is also important for you to explain what your child may feel in an unhealthy relationship and encourage them to talk to you 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. If children are non-verbal strategies to use include ensuring that language about these areas are incorporated into their communication systems. You may want to work with a speech pathologist to set that up.
- Once you have developed strategies/information with your children e.g. the safety continuum need to make sure these strategies are included in your child’s communication mechanisms or ask someone trained to do this.
- 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 including ‘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.
- Teaching your child skills that can help to keep them safe – teach and give your child the permission to say ‘no’ when someone – anyone – makes them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable.
- A protective factor will be to explain to your child to be aware if there is some deviation/difference from the usual routine that doesn’t feel right e.g. if the child receives continence support are they being wiped, 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, 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.
- Remember different children will have different needs. Children on the autism spectrum might have quite different learning needs to children with processing or verbal difficulties; which will differ again for children and young people with behavioural and/or emotional difficulties. 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.
- With older children different issues can also arise for example the need to educate and monitor the child’s use of internet, chat rooms and social networking sites, assist them in learning about having ‘special friends’, dating and going out on their own. It is a balance as you give your children 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.
Resources: we have included a number of resources in our helpful resources section.