April 22, 2024

Bodily Autonomy and Consent: Help Prevent Sexual Abuse

Last week we discussed ways to educate our children to help prevent child abuse and equip them with skills to report it. This week, we will continue with those tips, focusing on ensuring that our children understand bodily autonomy and consent.

Teach That Body Secrets Are NOT Okay

It’s crucial to educate our children that private parts are just that—private. This understanding prepares them to report ‘body secrets’ if they occur. A body secret involves someone touching them and then telling them to keep it a secret, often with threats of trouble if they tell anyone. Such coercion and threatening behavior can intimidate children, who are naturally trusting. Teach your child that if anyone tells them to keep a secret about touching, they must report it to a trusted adult immediately.

Also, emphasize that they won’t be in trouble for sharing such secrets. Use calm and direct questioning to help your child feel comfortable opening up if they need to report something.

Teach And Demonstrate That “No” Is An Absolute

From a young age, we teach children ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ However, children might find it uncomfortable to say ‘no’ to adults or older children, fearing they won’t be liked. At home, a child’s refusal to be tickled or played with may be ignored, leading them to feel their ‘no’ doesn’t matter. Likewise, make sure your child knows their ‘no’ is powerful and must be respected. Teach them to use ‘no’ to leave uncomfortable situations and to tell someone they trust if they want to leave. Their words are their most important tool for maintaining their boundaries.

Teach That Everyone Has To Follow The Rules

Ensure your child understands that the ‘no touching’ rule has almost no exceptions. Parents might need to touch them for cleaning or medical reasons, but no one else should. Predators can look like anyone, not just the stereotypical ‘bad guy.’ Your child needs to know that anyone asking to touch their private parts or asking them to touch someone else is breaking the rules. This includes classmates, teachers, and even family members.


We can’t fully prevent child sexual abuse, but educating our children empowers them to fight it. Predators exploit ignorance and blind trust. By providing initial education and fostering an open dialogue about preventing abuse, you help your child venture into the world safer. This is not a ‘one-time talk.’ Continuously ensure your child knows how to act in real-world situations. For example, if your child peeks under a stall in a public bathroom, remind them about boundaries and privacy. If they ignore another child’s “no” at the playground, remind them that we listen when people say no because we want to be listened to, too. Ultimately, bodily autonomy and consent education are crucial to keeping our children safe.

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Josh Gillispie