Assist Survivors. Treatment. Outreach. Prevention.
Starting prevention conversations with children is crucial.
Today, we’re going to focus on the “P” of our acronym – Prevention. All of ASTOP’s prevention work with children ages 4-11 is related back to a program called Protective Behaviors. Protective Behaviors is a program that focuses on personal safety for children.
There are two themes associated with the Protective Behaviors program:
- Everyone has the right to feel safe all the time, and others have the right to feel safe with us.
- We can talk to somebody we trust about ANYTHING – no matter how small or scary.
By focusing on these two themes, our Prevention Educator teaches children the difference between feeling safe and unsafe – as well as what to do if they feel unsafe. Unfortunately, some survivors of sexual abuse didn’t know who to talk to or where to go when the abuse was happening. ASTOP is working to change that outlook through these school presentations.
Beginning with the 4K programs through the Fond du Lac School District, the Prevention Educator starts teaching the Protective Behaviors program. With 4-year-old students, it is a 2-day presentation.
Day 1 of Protective Behaviors Program for 4- year old students
On the first day, the 4K students learn two important touching rules:
- No one can touch our private body parts except to keep us clean and healthy
- We do not keep secrets about touching
These two rules help start the conversation about safe and unsafe touches. A safe touch is something that makes us feel happy, and it is from people we love: a hug, a high five, a pat on the back, and similar touches. An unsafe touch is something that hurts us or makes us feel uncomfortable: hitting, punching, kicking, or someone touching our private body parts when it is not to keep us clean or healthy. The Protective Behaviors program does not use the terms “good touch/bad touch” because the “bad touch” can still feel good to the child, even if it is exploitative.
The Prevention Educator then discusses secrets and touching. Many times, a child is told to keep sexual abuse a secret. This secret-keeping can also become complex; if an abuser were to use bribes such as toys, or treats with the child, they may tell the child that they cannot have the toys or treats anymore if they tell the secret. This is when practicing “even if” scenarios is helpful, like “what should you do even if someone touches you in an unsafe way but they tell you to keep it a secret?”.
There are 3 safety rules that the children learn during these presentations as well:
- Say NO
- Get Away
- Tell a Trusted Grown-Up
The children start to build a safety network with the 3rd safety rule. This is when they list parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, etc. It is incredibly important for these students to learn that their teachers are great people to talk to as well! Because teachers are mandated reporters, we want to encourage those students to tell their teachers. Not because we want to diminish trust in parents, but statistics show that in juvenile sexual abuse cases, a parent is a perpetrator 80% of the time. Having students report sexual abuse to teachers ensures that a report will be made.
Repetition is key in these presentations. Saying the 2 touching rules and the 3 safety rules multiple times will help the children think of these things if they are in an unsafe situation. Even if a child did not say no during abuse, or did not try to get away, if they only remember to tell a trusted grown-up, that can make all the difference in the world.
Day 2 of Protective Behaviors Program
The second day with the 4K students is focused on the same ideas as the first day. Again, repeating the touching and safety rules is key, and before the children learn the second day’s information, the Prevention Educator reviews all of what was talked about in the previous lesson.
Early Warning Signs
This lesson is focused on how our bodies feel when we are scared, or our Early Warning Signs. Our Early Warning Signs are there to tell us that something is not right, or to give us a red flag. As adults, we are accustomed to these feelings, and sometimes brush them off. We may get a “bad feeling” about someone; but yet as humans, we want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and give people a second chance.
The Prevention Educator teaches the basics about Early Warning Signs after reading a story to the students and helping them discover what happened in the story. The story is about a girl whose legs turn to jelly when she is scared or nervous. They turn green when she’s a little scared, yellow when she’s more scared, and red when she is very scared. When the girl’s jelly legs are red, that means she needs to stop what she’s doing, and find help. In the story, the girl and her friend ask for help from 2 people – but neither of them help the kids. Because the girl’s legs are still red jelly, they continue to ask for help until someone helps them. This helps teach persistence to the students. If they ask for help from one person, and that person can’t or won’t help, they need to find another.
The discussion about Early Warning Signs helps the students discover and remember what they feel like when they are scared. Some examples of Early Warning Signs are: hair feeling like it’s standing up, throat feeling tight, crying, heart pounding, butterflies, wobbly knees, shaky legs, goosebumps, sweaty hands, or feeling hot. Listing these and letting the students add their own helps them identify as well.
Our Prevention Educator finishes the presentation by having the students recite the touching rules and safety rules, and reminding them that they can always talk to someone they trust if something doesn’t feel right – as well as talking to their trusted adults about happy and exciting events too! ASTOP also created a Protective Behaviors booklet for the students to take home and discuss with their trusted grownups-that way, the kids get to take ownership and tell all about what they learned.
“What can you possibly teach a 4-year-old about sexual abuse?”
Sometimes, family and friends will ask “Why do you teach these things to kids so young?” or “What can you possibly teach a 4-year-old about sexual abuse?”. We teach these kids safety, and what to do if they are not safe, and these safety rules can apply to other areas in their life too. To give an idea of just how many students this reaches, in 2018 our Prevention Educator completed 54 presentations just to 4K students in the Fond du Lac School District. It’s incredibly important to have the discussion about personal safety and telling a trusted adult if they don’t feel safe. We are not “preparing” our children for sexual abuse, but just as we practice fire drills, tornado drills, lockdown drills, we have to practice this personal safety. Fond du Lac is saying NO MORE to sexual abuse, and reporting abusers is a way we say NO MORE.
ASTOP is a non-profit sexual abuse center located here in Fond du Lac. Since 1992, ASTOP has been able to provide free and confidential services to those who are affected by sexual assault-whether it happened 2 weeks ago, 2 years ago, or 20 years ago. It is NEVER too late to talk to somebody about what happened, and that’s what ASTOP is here for. Visit our website to learn more about our services.