Are you wondering how on earth a child’s picture book can help prevent child sexual assault? Here’s a preview of the Parents’ and Teachers’ Digital Handbook that comes with every copy of ‘I Won’t, said Willow’. Each page of the picture book contains opportunities to open conversations with children; the handbook guides you through these conversations and provides helpful links to more information.
Here’s an extract to give you an idea of how it works.
Who owns our bodies? – page 5
Do good girls kiss on demand?
When your daughter, or indeed your son, is a teenager – will you want them to kiss and cuddle on demand?
Behind these question, to which we have almost certainly answered ‘NO!’ with some level of horrified disgust, are issues which search our personal moral database.
We may prefer to protest that these children looking at this picture book are still young and innocent, and there’s plenty of time.
Let them be children! We might say. All kisses are innocent and sweet and affectionate at this age!
Well, indeed – as long as they are willingly given.
Let’s not blind ourselves to the fact that the four-year-old of today is the 13-year-old of tomorrow, who will most likely either be showered with inappropriate requests for naked images (via the iPhone smuggled into her bedroom behind a closed door, because that’s what adolescents tend to do) – or be doing the showering upon some other vulnerable child.
Shortsightedness is not good parenting. Parenting well is a matter of looking always to the long haul, and acknowledging that we are, in early childhood, laying important foundations. To demand that your child kiss and cuddle, or allow themselves to be kissed and cuddled, at the demand of another adult (or, heaven help us, an adolescent relative or friend) is laying a dangerous foundation.
Our bodies are not public property. Neither are those of our children. There is no requirement that we hand them over on demand.
But at the same time, we’re negotiating a difficult social situation. How can we do this without causing social ructions?
Can you say something to the friend or relative who’s demanding physical affection from your reluctant child? Are you brave enough to say, gently and quietly,
‘We don’t make her (or him) kiss and cuddle if she doesn’t want to. We don’t want her to start thinking that anyone who asks her can have a kiss or cuddle, because that’s going to be a dangerous belief later on with certain unscrupulous peers and adults. We want her to be fully comfortable with the person before she offers physical affection. Can you please help me with this?’
It’s amazing how transformative asking your fellow adult for help can be. If you refuse to make your child kiss them, then yes, they may feel wounded – but if you instead make it clear that you want to enlist them as a good guy, helping your child to grow up safe, you may get a very different reaction.
Try it! And better still, try it before they ask your child for a kiss or cuddle. That way, you’re not putting dear, kind, well-meaning people on the spot and embarrassing them.
Some older relatives may have trouble believing the dangerous shoals that are ahead for the ‘connected’ child when they become a teenager – or even before that. You might need to show them some evidence, like this:
TALKING WITH CHILDREN
Explore Willow’s words, ‘My kisses belong to me’. Explain that kisses mean something – they mean ‘I like you a lot’ or ‘I love you’, and you don’t have to give them to just anyone.
- What else belongs to you? Do your hugs belong to you? Anything else?
- What parts of your body belong to you and don’t have to be shown to people, even if they ask you?
(The conventional wisdom is that we don’t show the parts of our body that are covered by our swimming costume.)
Naming body parts
PLEASE, PLEASE, get over your shyness and introduce children to the correct anatomical names for private parts! This is something that can cause legal action against CSA offenders to fall apart – the child, when asked what happened, is unable to name their body parts in a definitive way, because they’ve been taught strange euphemisms like ‘wee wee’ and ‘pippi’.
So, girls and women cover their breasts (or nipples if you like to be more specific), their vulva (or vagina if you like to be more specific) and their anus.
Boys and men cover their penis, their testicles and their anus.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about this, use a picture and point to the parts, so the children are not staring at your red face! Embarrassment is a really poor excuse for giving children bad information. You can do this. It’s important.
Here are some helpful links to give you some ideas about talking about sex with children.
Safe exposure, safe people
Moving on from there – we need to talk about who CAN see these parts of our body and touch them, and in what circumstances.
- When you’re using the big bathroom at childcare and you pull down your pants to go to the toilet, that’s okay, but it’s bad manners for other kids to stare at you.
(You might like to point out the routine here – go to the toilet, wash and dry your hands, leave that area – there’s no reason to hang around.)
- When a woman uncovers her breasts/nipples to feed her baby, that’s okay, but it’s bad manners for other people to stare at her. Apart from her small children and her husband or partner, who else might a woman decide to uncover her breasts for?
(This is where we talk about doctors and their need to examine and touch private parts of the body to make sure you’re healthy, or to check out why something is sore. Emphasise that it is the woman’s decision, always, to show someone her breasts. Explain that it’s always our decision to show our private parts, but sometimes it’s a good idea if we’re feeding a baby, or we’re sick or need help.)
- What about a tiny baby? Are we allowed to touch a tiny baby’s private parts?
(This is where we talk about care routines; changing nappies, applying ointment, washing. Who does these care routines in the child’s life? Point out the people who will need to touch their body to care for them.)
If you want to extend this learning, you can talk about different cultures where there are different ideas about which private parts are covered – for example, in many ancient tribes who live where the weather is very hot, it’s usual for women’s breasts to be uncovered and nobody thinks it’s rude; but in our culture, it would be considered a bit rude to walk around uncovered like that, and a policeman might ask you to cover yourself up. Children find these differences endlessly fascinating, and you might be able to facilitate some great discussions around the topic of cultural difference.
Putting it all together
You can move on to some theoreticals now. Ask some questions that can have clear yes-no answers.
Start with the easy questions.
- If your mummy or daddy is helping you go to the toilet, can they tell you to take off your underpants?
- If your bottom is sore, can the doctor touch your private parts to find out why it’s sore?
Only then do you move onto the hard questions. Think carefully about how you express these – you’re trying to clarify, not frighten, and if you happen to have a child in front of you who IS being abused, the last thing you want is to trigger them right then and there. Remember, avoid too much detail.
- If your best friend says ‘I want to see your wee wee’, do you have to show them?
(No! Change the game, or go and play with someone else. Tell someone safe if that person keeps asking and annoying you.)
- If a grown up says ‘I want to see your bottom’, do you have to show them?
(No! Not unless they’re a doctor or your parent, and there’s a problem with your bottom. If anyone else asks and you feel funny in the tummy about it, go and tell a safe person straight away, because you might need some help to stop them asking silly questions like that.)
- If someone asks you to take a picture of your private parts and show them, does that make it okay?
(No! Showing a picture isn’t being private! It’s like taking a photo of Mummy’s birthday present and showing her, when Daddy told you it was meant to be a surprise! Tell them no, and go and tell a safe person straight away, because you might need some help to stop them asking silly questions like that.)
Make sure you let them know that if they’re ever asked those ‘silly questions’, they need to tell a trusted adult and they won’t get into trouble. This is a really important point, because most abusers will tell the child that something terrible will happen if they tell.
BE that trusted adult. TELL THEM that you are a trusted adult. Even if you’re talking to a group of children whose parents have a wide range of attitudes, who might not react so well, you can show them at least one trusted adult – YOU.
And here’s the crunch: YOU HAVE TO BE WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE. When a child comes to you and tells you a difficult truth, you must never ‘kill the messenger’ and punish or chastise them for it. Children will test whether you are trustworthy. More about this later.
You can pre-purchase your copy of ‘I Won’t, said Willow’ and the full handbook through the Kickstarter page here: