Protecting children from abuse is a priority for parents and leaders. Prevention and protection begins at home. Prevention includes helping children and youth understand what abuse is and what they can do to protect themselves from it. Children should also be taught to not abuse others.
Preparing to Talk to Children
Having open communication with children is key to helping them understand what abuse is and how to protect themselves. These conversations can help you build trust and create a sense of safety with your children. This can help them feel safer talking to you if they have felt uncomfortable with how they’ve been treated or talked to. Children need to know that they can talk to you about anything, including the following:
- Understanding their bodies, their anatomy, and their sexuality
- Situations that make them uncomfortable
- If they have experienced or are experiencing abuse
Sister Joy D. Jones, General Primary President, taught: “Part of protection is creating strong, trusting, consistent relationships. These types of relationships help to draw our children close. As we build strong relationships of trust and protect our children and grandchildren—or any child—we give them a safe place to turn” (“It Starts with Us” [address given at the 2018 Utah Coalition Against Pornography conference, Mar. 10, 2018], mormonnewsroom.org).
As a parent or trusted adult, you should be an example of what you teach children about preventing abuse. For example, you should not force children to express affection (such as give a hug or kiss to someone) if they do not want to, even if you don’t want another person’s feelings to be hurt.
Teaching Children about Prevention
Teach children the following principles. Help them understand that even though you teach them about how to prevent abuse, abuse can still happen. If it does, it is not your fault, nor is it the child’s fault (see “What if I think the abuse is my fault?”). Adapt your conversations to the age, maturity, and understanding of your child.
These are things you can say when you talk to your children about preventing abuse:
1. It is okay to say no, even to an adult.
You are in charge of your body. This means that you can decide if someone can touch you, hug you, or kiss you.
If you are being touched or treated inappropriately or asked to do something that makes you feel embarrassed, awkward, or self-conscious, it is okay to say no and get away, if possible.
Sometimes you might feel like giving someone a hug or kiss and sometimes you might not—and that is okay. You can practice saying “No,” “Don’t touch me,” and “Leave me alone.”
2. There are parts of your body that are private where another person should not touch you.
Private parts include those covered by a swimming suit. It is not okay for others to touch your private parts either under or over your clothes. They should not take pictures of you without your clothes. Also, if someone asks you to touch them or another person in parts of their body that are private, it is not okay.
3. It is not okay for someone to force, threaten, or entice you to participate in physical contact or any sexual behavior.
If someone asks you to do something you know to be wrong, you can say no.
Some examples of how they might force, threaten, or entice you include the following:
- They use their position, authority, age, size, or what they know to force you to do what they want.
- They say that they do not want to be your friend unless you do what they say.
- They take something of yours and will not give it back unless you do what they say.
- They threaten to spread lies about you unless you participate.
- They offer you gifts, favors, or other rewards for participating.
- They threaten to hurt you or someone in your family if you don’t do what they say.
4. Do not hide the abuse.
There are differences between a secret and a surprise. A surprise is something like a birthday or Christmas present that will eventually be shared. A secret is when someone tells you not to tell anyone. If you are asked to keep a secret about someone touching or hurting you, you should immediately talk to a trusted adult.
5. Talk to trusted adults about how to get to a safe place if something happens.
There are some things you can try to do to get to a safe place if you are in an abusive situation. Even if you can’t get away, talk to a trusted adult about what happened or is happening as soon as you can.
6. Even if you do your best to stay safe, people still might hurt you.
If someone touches you or hurts you, it is not your fault. Tell a trusted adult if something bad happens. No matter what happens, you are always loved.
7. You can always talk to me or another trusted adult.
You can talk to me if you have been touched or if someone made you do something to feel unsafe. Even if you have been told nobody will believe you, I will believe you.
If you are not able to tell me, please tell another adult you trust. A trusted adult can help protect you and get you the support that you need. Make a list of people who listen to you and who you feel safe with. A trusted adult may be a parent, grandparent, other relative, teacher, Church leader, doctor, or school counselor.
Teaching Children to Respect Others
Just as it is important to teach children how to prevent abuse or respond if someone is trying to abuse them, it is also essential for children to understand that they should respect others. We should treat all people with kindness and respect. Following the guidelines for conduct and behavior as described in For the Strength of Youth is a good place to start. Also teach children the following principles:
- It is not okay to hurt someone else—physically, verbally, or emotionally—no matter what. Do not say things to put people down or that will hurt other people. Do not create or share pictures, videos, or messages that are harmful and hurtful to other people.
- You should not touch the private parts of another person, even if you or they ask. Do not take off your clothes in front of someone. And do not look at another person’s private parts.
- When someone says no or asks you to stop doing or saying something, listen to them. If the other person does not want to be touched, tickled, or kissed or participate in any other behavior, do not do it.
- Do not bully others or force other people to do things that you want them to do. Respect their agency.
Community and Church Resources
(Some of the resources listed below are not created, maintained, or controlled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While these materials are intended to serve as additional resources, the Church does not endorse any content that is not in keeping with its doctrines and teachings.)
- “Talking to Your Kids about Sexual Assault,” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
- “Talking With Your Children About Abuse” (archbalt.org)
- “Tips for talking with your children about child abuse”
- “How We Can Address Abuse”
- “RESPECT! Conversation Starters: Respectful Relationships,” Futures Without Violence
- “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse,” Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Child Sexual Abuse Prevention (preventchildabuse.org)
- “How can we prevent child sexual abuse?” Parents Protect!
- “Teaching Good Touch Bad Touch,” Family Help Center
- Tip Sheet: Don’t Wait: Everyday Actions To Keep Kids Safe | Stop It Now
- “How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Any Relationship,” Mormon Channel
- “You Can Get Teens to Talk,” Ensign, Oct. 1993
- “Lesson Helps for Teaching Children: Abuse,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org
- “Find a Trusted Adult to Talk To,” Wiki How