How to discuss inappropriate sexual conduct with young children

another school year

I find that the arrival of another school year is always a good time to reflect on how, as parents, my husband and I can help ease the children’s transition back into school life. While the children are happy in school, they inevitably experience some anxieties as well.

Two years ago, our kindergarten-aged daughter came home from school a bit bothered. She told me that she was tired of grown ups pinching her cheeks and, in one instance, one of the male “canteen people”  even kissing her and telling her she was cute. She looked bothered and even slightly embarrassed to tell me about the latter incident because she thought I would scold her. I immediately gave her a hug and had a chat with her about what had happened, told her that she had done nothing wrong and assured her that it would be OK.

But I wasn’t OK. I was bothered. And I was angry. Why was this sort of contact happening in school? How dare an adult make my young child feel vulnerable and embarrassed in that way?

Of course, it’s a big leap from a peck on the cheek to sexual abuse. However, sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual conduct in schools has been documented countless times and does not seem to be uncommon and often starts with seemingly innocent acts. And it’s one of those things which, if it doesn’t happen to your child or any of their friends or schoolmates, will not really be in your radar as a parent. Furthermore, we take it for granted that our children will always be cared for and safe in school–which they are almost all the time.

sexual conduct underwear rule

Inappropriate sexual conduct and the Underwear Rule

Nonetheless, my Mother Bear instincts told me that, even so, I should be vigilant and provide my children with information should they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.  And as most of us do, I turned to Google. I found lots of tips, tricks and children’s books on how to discuss inappropriate sexual conduct with young children. But the one I found most helpful would be this one from the Council of Europe. It’s called the Underwear Rule and as it is described, it is “a simple guide to help parents explain to children where others should not try to touch them, how to react and where to seek help.” If you are inclined to speak to your children about this, check it out. And tell us what you think–whether this is a subject that even matters to you, or if you have found other references and helpful links.

Written by Marite Irvine

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