Stranger Danger  = “You are the boss of your body.”

There is a common misconception that children are abused by strangers, hence the singsong “stranger-danger”. In fact, according to the National family_therapy

Association of Adult Survivors of Child abuse, 90% of child abuse victims have been abused by someone they know. This is a terrifying reality. What singsong do we teach children, if “stranger-danger” does not suffice? There are many reasons why children do not disclose abuse or inappropriate touching, one of the reasons mentioned in the research is that children do not know how to disclose or to whom to disclose. Therefore, I was inspired to design a workshop for the learning company NORY.CO. The workshop is aimed toward teaching children to recognize inappropriate or dangerous touching and to give children the language needed to disclose, if abuse happens. The workshop is based on a few important tenants 1. Opening communication between the child and parent regarding the child’s body and sexuality 2. Educating children about bad touch and giving them the language necessary to speak to their parents or a trusted adult 3. Developing body-ownership in children 4. Understanding why their body is sacred and special. This article explains how the above 4 tenants can be implemented by parents in their own homes.


Not naming = shaming

Parents will name all areas of a child’s body; hand, foot, belly etc. and then skip over the genitals by either ignoring it or giving it a nickname. It is important to name the male genitalia with the proper anatomical name, the penis and the female genitalia with the proper anatomical name, the vagina (vulva) and breasts. When parents do not name the child’s genitals it indicates that there is either something wrong with this body part or the parent is not comfortable speaking about it. The damage is two-fold; One, the child will begin to develop a sense of shame about his/her genitalia and two, when the child is inappropriately touched he/she will not disclose the abuse because he/she assumes the parent is not comfortable with speaking about this area of the body. Using the proper anatomical name indicates to your child that you are comfortable speaking to them about their private parts.


Knowing = Telling

Once you have introduced the proper name you can explain to your child that we refer to this as the private parts since this area belongs only to him or her and no one else! Now that your child knows that he is the boss of his body and his private parts, you can introduce the three different types of touch. The three types of touch are bad touch, good touch, and uncomfortable touch. When explaining to your child what bad touch is, give an example of bad touch. Do not shy away from being explicit. An example can be, someone say’s to you “pull down your pants” or tries to touch your private parts. When I introduce bad touch to the children I teach them the following singsong; “no way, go away” they pretend to run to their parent and they yell; “bad touch, bad touch!” In addition to understanding what bad touch is, children also need to know what to do when bad touch happens. Being able to identify bad touch is essential. Reporting to a parent, teacher, or doctor is equally as important.


When speaking to the children about uncomfortable touch, the key is to help the child recognize that he/she is the boss of his/her body. If touch is uncomfortable the child has the right to request that the touching should stop. Uncomfortable touch can include tickling, hugging, a pinch or kiss on the cheek etc. Practice with your child saying; “stop” or “please do not do that.” Good touch can be explained to children as any touch that helps them. Children easily grasp the concept of good touch. Spend time speaking to your child about good touch that hurts, such as taking out a splinter. What about good touch that includes touching the child’s private parts? Children must be asked permission before someone (e.g. parent or doctor) touch’s or undresses them. When a parent is helping a child take a bath, changing their diaper, or if a doctor is checking the child; the child should be asked permission first. Teach your child that if the parent or doctor forgot to ask permission, they can say; “please ask me permission.”  As a parent, you can request that your child’s practitioner ask permission before beginning to check your child. (I have found that some pediatricians all ready do so.)


Sharing = Sharing

In the last section of the workshop I tell the children a story about a mom and dad who love each other very much and they want to have a baby who is a combination of both mom and dad. For parents at home I recommend the book What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. The purpose of including this in the workshop is for parents who are unsure of how to respond to their child when asked the question “where do babies come from?” Additionally, this conversation lays the groundwork for future communication about sexuality. When children see their parents are comfortable with the uncomfortable they view their parents as a trusted source and as someone whom they can go to when they have confusing questions. This also solidifies that the private parts are special and sacred because they are a part of the very special process of making a baby.


The Taboo

Parents are confident when speaking to their child about safety, but when it comes to addressing their child’s behaviors of touching their private parts, parents freeze. How much do I tell my child? Do I talk to my child at all about pleasure? How do I react when I see my child touching him or herself? What does this mean? Is it over sexualized behaviors? It is important to keep in mind that self-touch often feels good for the child but is is not sexual in the way that adults understand touch. The key to speaking to your child about pleasure or self-touch is in normalizing it. Many adult sexual dysfunctions can be traced back to early childhood messages that sex is shameful and bad (Bader, 2002). Normalizing pleasure will help your child develop a healthy understanding of their sexuality. You can teach your child that touching him or herself should only be done in private. Just like you do not pick your nose in public, you do not touch your private parts in public. Research shows that children growing up in a sex positive environment start having sex later in life and are less likely to be teen moms (Advocates for Youth). Beginning conversations about the body, privacy, and pleasure at a young age ensures that important safe sex conversations in the future are not awkward and your child will be more willing to listen.


Wrapping it all up

Speaking to children about their body, sexuality, and pleasure is a very sensitive topic. You are the parent and you know your child best, so use your own discretion of how much you are willing to teach your child. Beginning the conversation and continuing the talk will require that you stretch yourself beyond what you are comfortable with. Remember, having a difficult talk with you child, may prevent a future trauma. Think about the benefits and the goals you would like to achieve. A focus on the future will give you a boost to having open and honest communications with your child.



To learn more about the workshop you can visit NORY.CO and watch our interview here.



Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, MHC-LP, CASAC is a psychotherapist in New York City where she practices individual therapy, couples counseling, and sex counseling. You can contact Sara at [email protected] and read more blog posts at


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