Early prevention steps with toddlers

Dear Stop It Now!,
There is no current worrisome situation – I just want information to share with my family. My grandchild is 2 yrs. old and has been going to childcare since she was an infant. Things seem to be so different and dangerous now, or maybe there are just more informational outlets and we are more aware of the instances of abuse. Personally I never had any discussions with my children but I feel we must be educated and informed for the grandbabies! Is there any specific information for prevention for toddlers?

Dear Concerned Grandparent,
It’s great that you’re asking about safety planning. There are three primary factors to keeping children safe from sexual harm:

Learn about healthy sexuality
It's a good idea to start by learning about children's healthy and age-appropriate behaviors. This will help watchful adults know when there are behaviors that seem unusual or different. You can begin with reviewing Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior, and other resources on healthy sexuality can be found on our Resource list of Children's Sexuality Development and Behaviors. In specific, you may be interested in There's No Place Like Home...For Sex Education, a resource with information about how to talk with children of all ages.

At this age, the most important ways you and other caregiving adults can interact with her around sexuality are:

  • Teach language for all body parts, including genitals
  • Allow her to explore her own body; do not shame her for being curious
  • Respond to questions about sexuality honestly but simply
  • Engage and model healthy physical contact
  • Provide warm, safe and loving environment

Even though your granddaughter is young, modeling supportive and honest communication and relationship behaviors will also help her to feel safe and to know when she should turn to an adult for help. If she feels that she can comfortably ask any question about her body, about people’s behaviors and her feelings, she is more likely to come to trusted adults for help when she is confused or even scared about something.

Safety Planning
The next step is to think about the family safety plani. This shouldn’t be developed just in response to a concern but rather this is an opportunity to think about the household and community rules about privacy, boundaries, limits, and supervision. Here are some tip sheets from our site that describe everyday actions parents can take to help keep their children safe.

Everyone involved in the care of your granddaughter should be aware of the family safety plani, and everyone is responsible for following the plan.

Speak Up
A key to preventing child sexual abuse is to speak up whenever there is a concern. If anyone’s behaviors raise a question, then the caretaking adults should ask about those behaviors. It is possible to have conversations about sexual abuse prevention that are not accusations but rather requests for all adults to be accountable in their behaviors and to put a child’s safety first. 

It is understandable that raising ideas about sexual abuse prevention can be uncomfortable but when we can raise the rules of a safety plan – describe what behaviors are allowed around children and what are not – then we are focusing on behaviors (not people) and we are creating an environment where adult’s actions are focused on a child’s safety and wellbeing.

Finally, I want to applaud your commitment to your grandchild’s safety. In some ways, there is more to look out for in terms of keeping children safe these days. It’s advisable that every caregiving adult stay current on the risks to children. We do hear from grandparents frequently and for that reason we have put together the following tipsheet: The Unique Role of Grandparents in Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.

I hope this information is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions.

Take care,
Stop It Now!
 

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Last edited on: August 5th, 2014