Having protective
conversations with children

Most parents will instinctively want to feel that their child feels safe and secure every day of their young lives. Part of that process is having protective conversations with them.

What is meant by a protective conversation? It simply means talking to you child from a young age about safety, their bodies, being aware of what safety means, and how they can protect themselves. No matter how old they are, has the right to feel physically, mentally and emotionally safe at all times.

Arming them with the right information about personal safety is a positive way to teach children about risk-taking and keeping safe. They will be able to identify when they are unsafe, and learn what they can do about it.

These protective conversations are also linked to your child’s sense of self. Children who are assertive, feel confident, and have solid support networks are generally less likely to find themselves in dangerous situations.

Parents are often concerned about having these chats because they don’t want to use words like “abuse,” however it is important to start having these discussions in a calm, relaxed and comfortable manner – just as you would talk to your little ones about the importance of crossing the street safely, keeping warm or healthy eating.

When a child starts school these discussions will be held in class at some point. However, it is a great idea to have already begun these conversations at home before they begin their formal education. Commence the conversation with your child by talking about feelings.

One of the best ways to do this is to mention “yes” feelings. Tell them this is the feeling you have after something happens that you like. Teach them that a “no” feeling is the feeling you have after something happens that you don’t like.

It is also beneficial at this juncture to stress to your child that all feelings are okay, helpful, and healthy. Although the “no” feelings may not feel right, they are useful because they can help keep us safe.

As you go on to talk about each feeling, aim to identify some “yes” and “no” feelings with your child. Remember that “yes” feelings normally occur when we feel safe “No” feelings occur when we feel unsafe.

For young children it is a good idea to use images like smiley faces for “yes” feelings and a sad face for “no” feelings.

It can be useful to also continue protective conversations with your child when you are reading a story to them such as Little Red Riding Hood or Finding Nemo. Before starting the story ask your child to look out for “yes” feelings and “no” feelings as the plot progresses. Establish three sets of safety rules in a story. So for Little Red Riding Hood, for example, it would be:

  • Stay on the path;
  • Don’t stop along the way;
  • Don’t talk to strangers.

When you notice that a safety rule in the story has been broken, stop reading and have a protective conversation with your child about it and discuss its effects.

Secrets is another concept that comes under the umbrella of protective conversations. Just as there are “yes” and “no” feelings, there are “happy” and “unhappy” secrets.

Explain to your child that a happy secret often involves a surprise such as a sibling’s or family member’s upcoming birthday party. This is innocent information that will eventually be known to everyone and shared.

An unhappy secret is less open and can occur when your child is asked by someone to not tell anyone about it. If the unhappy secret seems like it’s a “no” feeling explain to your child that they need to understand that this may be a secret they need to tell an adult they trust about.

Use a catchphrase such as “No, go tell” as a way of reinforcing that your child needs to tell a grown-up they trust straight away if this ever happens. Reassure them that this is a good thing to do.

Finally, it is important that you discuss with your child who they can talk to. Let your child choose 2-3 adults, other than yourself, whom you both agree are trusted people in their lives that they can talk to about anything.Having these conversations with your child early will help them feel safe. And you will feel confident that you have done what you can to prepare your child to protect themselves from abuse.

If this blog has raised any issues for you and your family, you might like to know that RANSW’s Western Sydney Family referral Service offers individual and family counselling as well as other education programs for parents. Be aware of any changes in your child or teenager’s behaviour and seek assistance if you are concerned. Call today: 1300 403 373

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