Simple conversations, like crossing the road safely, bullying and dealing with strangers, are subjects that you and your child might talk about. But what about staying safe from sexual abuse? It’s a conversation no parent wants to have, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, you don’t even have to mention ‘sexual abuse’. Simple conversations really can help keep your child safe, and that’s what – over the next few pages – we will help you do.
To help children really remember the Underwear Rule, we want to get everyone talking PANTS. Each line of PANTS covers a different part of the Underwear Rule and provides a simple but valuable lesson that can keep a child safe. How and when you talk PANTS to your child is your choice. After all, you know them better than anyone. You’ll know when they’re ready and how much detail you need to go into. This guide has everything you need to get those conversations started.
The Underwear Rule is
a simple way to help keep
children safe from abuse.
It teaches children that
their body belongs to them,
they have a right to say no,
and that they should tell
an adult if they’re upset
P: Private is Private
A: Always Remember That Your Body Belongs To You
N: NO Means NO
T: Talk About The Things That Upset You
Tips and techniques
• Don’t view conversations about staying safe as a one-off. It’s much better to have conversations little and often. This will help you to reinforce the key points, and to adapt the message as your child gets older.
• Once you’re ready to talk, you might find your child isn’t. That’s OK. The most important thing is to not force the issue. The last thing you want is for your child to feel it’s a big deal.
• Weaving simple conversations about staying safe into the daily routine is a great way to stop it feeling like a lecture. If it feels less weird for your child, it will feel much easier for you too. Anything covered by underwear is private. No one should ask to see or touch parts of the body covered by underwear. No one should ask your child to touch or look at parts of their body covered by underwear. If anyone tries, your child should say no. In some situations, people – such as family members at bathtime, doctors or nurses – may need to touch your child’s private parts. Explain to your child that this is OK, but that those
people should always explain why, and ask if it’s OK first. Your child has the right to say ‘no’ –even to a family member or someone they love. This shows your child they’re in control of their body and their feelings are respected. There are times when you may need to overrule your child’s preferences to keep them safe – like when you’re crossing the road – but it helps if you explain why. If a child feels empowered to say no to their own family, they are more likely to say no to others. Your child should know their body belongs to them, and no one else. No one has the right to make your child do anything with their body that makes them feel uncomfortable. If anyone tries, they should tell a trusted adult. Help your child feel confident that speaking up about a secret that’s worrying them won’t get them into trouble. Explain the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets. Some secrets, like surprise parties, can be good. But adults should never make a child keep a secret that makes them feel worried, sad or frightened. Secrets are often an abuser’s greatest weapon. Phrases like “it’s our little secret” are their way of making a child feel worried or scared to tell. Help your child to feel clear and confident about what to share and
when. Secrets shouldn’t be kept in exchange for something, and should never make your child feel uneasy.
A secret should always be shared in the end. If your child feels sad, anxious or frightened they can talk to an adult they trust. This person will listen, and can help stop whatever’s making them upset. Remind your child that whatever the problem, it’s not their fault and they won’t get into trouble. A trusted adult doesn’t have to be a family member. It can be a teacher, an older brother or sister or a friend’s parent. It can even be ChildLine.
It’s your body, no one else’s. No one
should make you do things that make
you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.
If anyone tries, tell an adult you trust.
You have the right to say ‘no’ –
even to a family member or
someone you love. Remember,
you’re in control of your body
and your feelings are important.
Secrets shouldn’t make you feel
upset or worried. If they do, tell an
adult you trust. You will never get
into trouble for sharing a secret
that upsets you.
Talk about stuff that makes you
worried or upset. An adult you trust
will listen, and be able to help. It
doesn’t have to be a family member.
It can be a teacher or a friend’s
parent – or even ChildLine.
Parts of your body covered by underwear
are private. No one should ask to see or
touch them. Sometimes doctors, nurses or
family members might have to. But they
should always explain why, and ask if it’s
OK first. No one should ask you to touch
or look at parts of their body that
are covered by underwear.
Children find it hard to speak out. By encouraging children to talk about issues earlier, and listening to their thoughts and feelings, parents can create the culture of openness that helps keep children safe from abuse.
Won’t talking to my child about this scare them?
We believe in safe, secure childhoods – which is why the advice we’re giving is practical and reassuring. We don’t want to upset or scare families and we definitely don’t want to make children feel they can’t accept a hug or a kiss from an adult. Feel free to use language and ideas you know your child will understand and adapt it as they get older.
Why is it important to talk PANTS?
We understand that conversations like this can be difficult for both parents and children. Parents don’t
want to scare or upset their children, and some feel it’s too soon. That’s why the Underwear Rule is
important and we encourage parents and children to talk PANTS – simple conversations that are appropriate for 5-11 year olds about staying safe. Unfortunately, as stories in the media remind us, child sexual abuse is widespread. 90 per cent of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew. And one in three children abused by an adult told no one else at the time. If it’s nothing to worry about, you can feel assured that you’ve checked it out. Remember, it’s probably a huge relief for your child to be able to talk to you. Whatever you think and feel, it’s about reacting with love, support, openness and reassurance. It’s not something to be frightened of –we can support you and help you move forward.
Does this mean I have to talk to my child about sex?
You don’t have to talk about sex or keeping safe from sexual abuse until you feel your child is ready. But if your child asks questions, it’s really valuable to take the opportunity to talk. It shows that you are open to having conversations and will help your child feel confident that they can come to you whenever they’re worried.
What if my child says something that worries me?
If your child says something that worries you in any way, get some advice. Talk to a teacher at school
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It’s a simple way to have conversations
with your child about staying safe.
We’ve created this guide with parents in
mind, helping you talk to your 5-11 year
old child about their body, and what to
do if they’re made to feel uncomfortable.