Among the different measures we can take within the family to prevent child abuse is teaching children the value of their bodies. The meaning that the child develops about her own body depends largely on what we teach her about it. What is not valued is not protected. If we teach the child that her body is not important, the child will learn that others can decide and act on her body; favoring that it is more vulnerable when recognizing and facing a risk situation. Everyday life can become the ideal setting to teach children to dignify, signify and draw the limits of their body. Here I share some principles to teach boys the value and protection of their bodies. These I have built based on my experience in caring for children and adolescents.
- Recognize body parts and function
Sex education begins with the recognition of the body, its forms, its parts and its functions. From an early age the child begins to know her body and that of others, compares and asks questions. Here it is important to speak naturally, teaching the correct name of the body parts. Just as we say to the child «this is your arm», we must say «this is your penis» or «this is your vagina». Likewise, we must allow the child to express her curiosity about the body and sexuality, adapting the information we provide to her concerns, ability to understand and age. In general, the child deserves to know that her body is fabulous, because through her she experiences herself and the world. The body is the container of life, therein lies its value.
- Independence in hygiene and personal care
If the body is life, it must be cared for. Bathing, cleaning yourself when you go to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, eating, protecting yourself from the cold or the sun’s rays are all ways of taking care of the body. A common mistake parents make is not allowing children to care for themselves, making them dependent on adult care. As the child grows, he develops skills that allow him to fend for himself. Our job is to enable you to deploy your skills and train them in their use. A child should progressively learn to bathe, dress, and clean. This prevents known or unknown people from accessing your body. The more independent the child is in caring for her body, the more protected she will be from abusive contacts.
- Create awareness of the intimate and the private
The body is involved in actions that can be public or private. Teaching your child about body privacy helps him develop a sense of intimacy and self-respect. The child must know that there are actions that belong to the private world, that they are individual and that others can participate only if they have our consent. And just as there are private actions (changing clothes) there are private spaces (the bathroom) where we can take them. Similarly, we must teach children that people must respect each other for our private actions and our private spaces. Many children receive confusing messages on this topic. Since as children, adults often skip this from privacy and are able to open the door of the room while the child changes, enter the bathroom without warning while the child is bathing, or usually change the child’s clothing in front of other people . The private is valid for both adults and children. The child must know that others must respect her intimate spaces and actions.