Providing Your Children with the Skills and Tools to Protect Themselves by Dr. David Pelcovitz

Providing Your Children with the Skills

and Tools to Protect Themselves

By: David Pelcovitz, Ph.D.
Professor, Straus Chair in Psychology and Education,
Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration,
Yeshiva University

Research on abuse prevention has consistently found that parents can play a crucial role in keeping their children safe. This can be done in an effective way that conveys key points about successful protection to even very young children. A recent study found that children who participated in an abuse prevention education program were six to seven times more likely to demonstrate self protective behavior than children who had not.

This book provides an invaluable tool for having such a discussion with your child. In a structured and psychologically sensitive manner it can serve as an ideal springboard for engaging your child in an effective and non-threatening manner. Once the ice is broken by approaching your child about this topic a process can begin that guarantees that whatever might happen to them outside of your home can be safely discussed and dealt with.

The following three major points are the key ingredients that parents should communicate to their children regarding personal safety:

Your body belongs to you and if somebody touches you in a way that makes you feel funny it is O.K. to say no. The key point here is to let the children know that the area covered by their bathing suits is a private area. If anybody touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable they should tell their parent what happened.

This point can be illustrated by speaking of a time that a family member tickled them beyond their feeling comfortable. Giving one’s child a voice and the right to say no in such a situation – which is clearly not abusive – can help them feel more confident in the process of learning to respond actively in an abusive situation. Keep in mind that most abusers don’t start with inappropriate touching of the child, but rather start innocently and progressively move to more inappropriate things if the child acquiesces.

How to Say No: Our children are taught to respect those older than themselves at a very early age. It is therefore very difficult for them to say no in an effective manner. Parents should role play with their children different ways of saying no to inappropriate touch. Statements like, “Leave me alone,” or “You shouldn’t be asking me to do that,” or “No; my mother doesn’t let me do that,” can be practiced with the child. Parents should help their child act non-verbally as well, by matching their verbal response with physically moving away.

If anybody tells you, “Do not tell your parents,”- tell them right away:Abuse thrives on secrecy and threats. Children need to be taught that their parents will protect them from threats and that the difference between good secrets and bad secrets is that secrets with peers like surprise parties are different from secrets designed to protect somebody who is doing something that makes the child feel bad.

Talking to children about safety is an ongoing process — not a one-time event. This book can serve as a “teachable moment” that can serve to trigger ongoing discussions about child safety. The most effective prevention of abuse, takes place in the context of a parent child relationship that is characterized by warmth, open communication, and a general feeling on the part of the child that there is nothing that the child can do or say that can lead to the loss of parental love. Similarly, building into the routine of the day a check-in time where the parent asks the children how their day went, and the children know that their parent is truly interested in hearing about the details of their lives can serve as an important ingredient that makes it more likely that the child will share anything upsetting that might be happening in his or her life.

The basic building blocks of an effective child safety program can begin with the simple process of sitting with your children and engaging them in the conversation triggered by this book. It is hoped that this will begin a process that will foster an atmosphere where our children will grow enveloped by our love, safety and protection.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. With reports of abuse by rabbis coming out almost weekly, I suggest that a national Jewish day school organization such as YU School Partnership or Torah UMesorah form a division to address preventing future child abuse, focusing on Jewish day schools.
    The professional hired as director could utilize the curriculum and resources developed by Dr. Pelcovitz, Rabbi Horowitz, JSafe, Aleynu in LA, and KidSafe in S. Florida. Trained professionals would give presentations to parents, staff, and children.

    As a Head of School in S. Florida, I brought in KidSafe to speak with the parents of students in grades 4-8 last spring, and then to do a series of weekly sessions with the students before they went to sleep-away camps. The parent session was very well attended and very well received, and focused on how to speak with our children about this topic, and what signs to look for (eg, grooming).

    During faculty orientation week this fall, KidSafe gave a similar presentation to our staff (which is mandatory for any school that receives State funding in Florida and, I assume, most or all States). We then had a session for parents of students in grades K-5, followed by 8 weekly sessions for the students, focusing on topics in Dr. Pelcovitz’s article. I can attest to the fact that two children (that I know of) were protected from possible inappropriate contact (not from a staff member) as a result of the skills they acquired.

    I would be interested in spearheading such a project, and am willing and able to do the fund-raising necessary to get it started, as well as direct the program on an ongoing basis (schools would be charged to cover the cost of the professionals).

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Dr. David Pelcovitz

Dr. David Pelcovitz is a psychologist whose career over the past 25 years has focused on clinical practice and research efforts in areas related to trauma, child abuse and parenting. He is currently the Straus Professor of Psychology and Education at the Azrieli Graduate School in Yeshiva University.