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Every parent wants to keep their child safe, but with a staggering 60,000 Aussie kids affected by sexual harm each year, it seems like a pretty big challenge.

However help is at hand with Bravehearts, Australia’s leading child protection organisation and the only Australian charity focussed holistically on the prevention of the crime of child sexual assault.

Ahead of its 21st annual White Balloon Day on September 8 the organisation has released helpful information for parents to guide them to effectively discuss personal safety with their children.

White Balloon Day is held each year during Child Protection Week (Sep 3-9), and is Bravehearts’ key awareness and fundraising event designed to help prevent a crime which affects 1 in 5 Australian children before their 18th birthday.

This year’s campaign will feature innovative and fun activities for all ages including the Bravehearts National Chalk Art Project and a virtual balloon race. More information about how you can get involved is available at WhiteBalloonDay.com.au.

Funds raised during the campaign go towards delivering Bravehearts’ education programs, as well as a suite of training programs and specialist support for kids and their families who have been affected by this crime.

“Preventing child sexual assault starts with educating and empowering children with vital knowledge and skills to keep safe,” says Hetty Johnston AM, Founder and Executive Chair of Bravehearts.

“Parents play an important role in empowering their children with the skills they need to stay safe and teaching them about child-safe environments.”

So what can you do as a parent? There are many ways to protect your child and teach them personal safety skills without mentioning the words ’sexual assault’. By teaching your child to trust their instincts, how to say no and that there is no secret they cannot tell, all parents can take vital steps towards protecting their children.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS
It’s never too early to sow the seeds of personal safety with your children. Research varies, but consistently shows that the average of victims when first sexually harmed is somewhere between 6 and 8 years of age. We need to be speaking with our children from early on, in an age-appropriate and non-threatening way about being safe. Educated and informed children are more empowered and less vulnerable to harm.

Encourage your kids to feel comfortable telling you anything – even if it involves other adults, family members or their friends. Work with your children to identify adults they can talk to or approach when they feel unsafe when you are not present.

Bravehearts’ Director of Research, Carol Ronken, warns that the majority of perpetrators of child sexual assault are usually known and trusted by the child.

“Children are groomed by perpetrators to not speak out,” says Ms Ronken.

“Perpetrators want the child to remain silent. Teaching children that it is okay to speak up even when it involves a close family member or friend is a vital key to prevention of this horrendous crime.”

Teaching children to trust their instincts and to tell someone if they feel unsafe or unsure about a situation or a person is crucial to building confidence and resilience in children.

TEACH THEM EARLY
Bravehearts recommends teaching children five basic principles aimed at helping them to stay safe in a range of situations from bullying to sexual assault.

These five basic principles are:

  1. To trust their feelings and to distinguish between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ feelings
  2. That they have the right to say ‘no’ to adults if they feel unsafe and unsure
  3. That they own their own bodies
  4. That nothing is so yucky that they can’t tell someone about it
  5. That if they feel unsafe or unsure to run and tell someone they trust.

The five principles have been taught to over 720,000 Aussie kids between the ages of 5 and 8 through Bravehearts’ education program Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure Show.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Make each outing a learning experience for your child. Teach them how to check in with you by using a pay phone, going to the rest room with a friend and how to seek help from a trusted adult such as the police.

“It is important for your child to be able to identify adults who they can trust,” says Ms Ronken.

“Knowing how to find those people or how to contact a parent if they need help will make your child safer and more confident as well. By having children practically role play what they would do in different situations helps build their confidence in knowing what they can and should do in different situations.”

EMPOWER YOUR KIDS
Talk to your children about their bodies. Teach them the correct language to use when describing their private parts and emphasise that these are just that, private. Body confidence and ownership will lessen their vulnerability to harm and help your child to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable.

Bravehearts also recommends to be sensitive to changes in your child’s behaviour.

“Keeping an eye open for subtle changes in a child’s behaviour or reaction to a particular person or situation may indicate that something may be troubling your child,” advises Ms Ronken.

“Children can be quite concerned about the reactions of their parents, which may prevent them from disclosing disturbing events or feelings. By ensuring that children are able to identify a range of ‘safe’ adults they can talk to and by remaining vigilant, parents can place themselves in the best position to be proactive about protection.”

What should you as a parent do if your child confides in you?

“Remain calm, and do not ask too many questions that might frighten your child. Pursue open ended statements and questions such as ‘I am here for you’, ‘I believe you’, ‘is there anything else you want to tell me?’,” advises Ms Ronken.

“Listen compassionately and let them know you believe them and support them and that you will do everything you can to help them be safe.”

For further information and to download the tip sheet, visit Bravehearts.org.au. To donate to this year’s White Balloon Day campaign or to register an event, visit WhiteBalloonDay.com.au.

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