CSA FAQ by Arpan Part 8 : Information on Personal Safety Education
Information on Personal Safety Education
Q27. What is Personal Safety Education? Who can impart this? How can it be done and from what age?
Personal Safety Education needs to be an on-going conversation about values, attitudes and rights of children regarding keeping themselves safe. Parents/caretakers are children’s best teachers and companions and are most suited to impart Personal Safety Education to children. However, schools can also take up Personal Safety Education with children given how all parents do not have the comfort to deliver messages on this issue and teachers have access to a large number of children. Arpan conducts Personal Safety Education programmes in schools and also trains teachers/counselors to incorporate the module in their “Life Skill” programme.
Personal Safety Education focuses on teaching children that they are special and have a wonderful body. They have a right to be safe and protected. In order to keep themselves safe they must know the “Personal Safety Rules” and names of private body parts. They must learn to identify safe and unsafe situations and touches through feelings, assertively say “No” to the person violating the child and tell a trusted adult.
- 18 Months – 3 years: Teach children the proper names for all the private body parts (for e.g., penis, testicles, buttock, and anus for boys; vagina, chest, buttocks, anus for girls) while you are introducing body parts for e.g. hand, leg etc.
- 3-5 years: Teach your child that parts of the wonderful body covered by undergarments/swimsuit are their private body parts. Teach children the rules about keeping their private body parts safe:
Rule Number 1: “It is never alright for someone to touch, look at or talk about my private body parts except to keep them clean and healthy. Also, it is never okay for someone to ask me to touch, look at or talk about their private body parts. “
Rule Number 2: “If someone tries to break this rule, I will say “NO” and Run/Get Away”.
This rule will help children build awareness of their feeling and through feelings help them identify safe and unsafe situation. It is also important to build a support system around the child so that the child can reach out to an adult and seek help for
Rule Number 3: “Tell someone and keep telling until I get the help I need”.
- 5-8 Years: Continue the dialogue on personal safety which you have already initiated. Give plenty of examples of safe and unsafe situations both at home and outside. Play the ‘what if’ game with children to make them understand a particular situation and take appropriate action. (For example, what if the man who sells sweets wants you to go somewhere with him and keep it a secret, what would you do?) Make children understand that a familiar person may also create an unsafe situation. Broaden their support system to include teachers or other caregivers away from home.
- 8-12 years: Reiterate the messages of personal safety. Talk about Personal Safety “guidelines” rather than “rules”. Rationalize with children rather than dictating ‘Dos’ and ‘’Don’ts’. Create examples and situations pertaining to their context. Address their anxieties and concerns around peer touching, bullying and self exploration.
- 12-18 years: Broaden the dialogue and the communication channels that you have initiated with your children to respond to their questions and apprehensions regarding personal boundaries, sexual exploration and safety. Prepare the child for the emotional and physical changes that the child will embark on due to puberty. Acknowledge and affirm children’s feelings. Support children to handle peer pressure and finding their own identity. Listen to children more often than telling them.
Q28. Why is it important to have age appropriate content in Public Safety Education?
- Birth to 2 years old
Children are curious about their bodies from an early age. Babies as young as three to five months start touching their private parts. These are normal and natural as these touches feel calming to children. Children do not associate the same feeling and derive sexual pleasure as adults do. However, if the infant is completely preoccupied with touching private body parts and it is not balanced with other activities then it should be probed. At around 2 years of age, children start developing gender identity of being male and female. This understanding starts with identifying differences in private body parts but moves beyond it as the child grows up.
- 2-5 years old
Children, at this stage, become curious about each others’ body. Their exploration with their own bodies also continues and children might like to be naked. Children at this age show little inhibitions. These are normal behaviours pertaining to psycho-sexual development as long as children are not pre-occupied, touching other children coercively or possessing/exhibiting sexual knowledge/behaviour beyond their age. Parents/caregivers have to respond appropriately without astonishment, anger or inducing shame/embarrassment to the children.
- 6-10 years old
During these years, children have crystallized their understanding of being boy and girl both biologically and socially. Children begin to develop inhibitions and shyness about their body, they no longer run around naked or let others watch them bathe. By the end of this phase, both boys and girls might show signs of early sexual development. If not supported with adequate information given in a matter – of fact way children become embarrassed/unable to handle the biological changes and confused about multiple and often contradictory messages that they receive from varied sources. Children at this stage develop an understanding of private body parts and they pick up clues around appropriate behavior in public.
- 11-18 years old
Children at this age are in their puberty and their psycho-sexual development becomes evident as they start showing secondary sexual characters like facial hair, body hair in boys and breasts, pubic hair in girls. It is also the phase when girls start menstruating and boys experience voice change. Boys are also more likely to have nocturnal emission, more commonly known as wet-dreams. As mentioned earlier if not well supported with adequate information and understanding this becomes challenging for children as they feel embarrassed and confused to deal with the bodily changes and the accompanying feelings. Parents/caregivers might find challenging to address these issues if they have not opened up channels of communication right from infancy. In such cases the parents might seek help from professionals to support the children with their questions, apprehensions and confusion. Hormones are also raging, children have a less ability to control motivations and make good choices – their brains are still developing. Teenagers will make a lot of mistakes, this is a part of their learning.
Q29. The Science lessons in CBSE/ICSE syllabi talk about private body parts in an elaborate and exhaustive manner. Then why do we need to make our children undergo Personal Safety Education (PSE) programme?
Firstly, Science lessons are simply about imparting biological information and are only taught to children in higher grades, whereas, the PSE programme is about protecting oneself and can be taught to children as young as three years. The PSE programme is a “Life Skill” module that not only provides adequate, age appropriate information to children but also inculcates in them a sense of empathy, self worth and ownership over their bodies while also equipping them with skills to keep themselves safe.
Secondly, the PSE module also involves the guardians of the child in the learning process. During the PSE lessons, the children are given assignments that parents are encouraged to be a part of. The assignments are given in a way that they provide children the space to voice questions, apprehensions confusions and thoughts and encourage children to seek help whenever necessary. This process of interaction between the children and the guardians provides a non threatening means to the guardians to talk to children about issues that they would otherwise feel uncomfortable about.
Q30. When children are taught about Personal Safety will they be resistant to safe touches too?
In a properly taught Personal Safety Education programme, children are provided with a lot of examples of safe touches as well as unsafe touches, so that they can differentiate between the two. It is also emphasized that safe touches are healthy and wanted for children. In spite of this, some children might initially use newly learnt vocabulary a lot and misunderstand a few situations. But parents/caregivers need to be patient with children and use this as an opportunity to engage in conversations with them. Over a period of time this anxiety will subside. Teachers/trainers of Personal Safety Education programme also need to talk to these children and tell them that they needn’t be scared of all kinds of touches and assure them that they are empowered with required knowledge and skill to be able to respond assertively when needed.
Q31. How can children with varied levels of comprehension absorb information given in Personal safety Education classes?
Personal Safety Education is carried out using different methodologies and is not primarily a lecture based module. Each module is age appropriate and designed for differing developmental levels. Personal Safety Lessons use various activities like songs, puppet shows, role plays and worksheets. This makes the module interactive and provides space for children to process the information and use skills which have been taught to them. In addition, after the lessons are completed, children are attended by the trainers on a one-to-one basis to clarify their doubts, confusion and also reiterate the important messages. These interactions along with an evaluation of homework sheets also help trainers to assess the comprehension level of the children and also refer children with special needs to school/external counselors. In order for children to retain the messages it is crucial that schools continue with the PSE module every year and parents also reiterate these messages with children at a regular interval.
Q32. How practical is it to talk to children from low socio-economic classes who often witness sexual acts between adults or are exposed to sexually explicit behavior and messages due to their living condition?
Careful understanding of the children’s background and their lived reality is very crucial before imparting Personal Safety Education Program. This will help us to understand the context of the children and deliver adequate messages around appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. It is also vital in this context to address the situation with both parents/caregivers and children so that while parents can take an additional effort to maintain privacy, children can also be made to understand that it is normal for adults to express their feelings in a particular way (sexual) with other adults. Children who observe sexual behavior are often confused or act sexually in a child-like manner from what they see. Personal safety gives children an age-appropriate context for what they see, gives them the opportunity to have their questions answered in a serious manner, and provides them with age-appropriate correct behaviors.
Q33. How do we teach Personal Safety to children having special needs?
There are many different populations characterized as “special” or “disabled” or “handicapped” or “challenged”. Each group has its own unique needs and vulnerabilities. In general, children who are mentally/physically challenged may be more vulnerable to sexual abuse because they are more in need of greater care by adults (who are potential offenders). All children need the same information on keeping themselves safe. But for children with special needs, some aspects of the content and the means through which information has to be provided differs depending on their specific challenges.
Along with empowering the children, it is also crucial to empower parents and caretakers because handicapped children may be less able to protect themselves in certain situations. The aim is to strengthen and expand the support channels and improve communication between the children and their caretakers.
For example, in the case of deaf children, the need to communicate through bodily contact may sometimes put them at more risk. When teaching them Personal Safety, we convey our messages to them through visual/non verbal means and focus on the specific situations that make them more/differently vulnerable. Similarly, for children who use wheelchairs to move, the focus is put on teaching them different ways of getting help since it may not always be possible to physically get away from the unsafe situation. With disabled children, it is also important to emphasize on how wonderful, unique and special their bodies are, because society is always telling them otherwise!
Q34. Will children be able to use the information and skills learned during personal safety classes when they face any unsafe situation in real life?
Personal Safety Education is a life skill module. Life skill programmes empower children with adaptive and positive behavior to deal with demands and challenges of everyday life. As a life skill module, PSE empowers children to make informed decisions, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively and identify safe and healthy relationships and behaviours. This imparting of information and skill building is age-appropriate and is supported by practice sessions and processing exercises. These are attempts to ensure that children not only learn about Personal Safety but are able to use these skills if they are faced with unsafe situations.
In our experience, children have been able to assertively say ‘No’ to attempted abuse, and get away from the situation and seek help from trusted adults post Personal Safety Education classes. Children become better equipped to handle real life situations using these knowledge and skills if these messages are reiterated and the same skills are being honed by the caregivers.
Children, when faced with abuse by a bigger person or by someone they love, trust, fear or respect, often feel that they have no option except to give in to the abuse. After all, children are taught to respect and obey without questioning! In addition, many children do not have the self-esteem to practice what they learn in personal safety classes. In PSE, these are some of the issues we address. We make them understand that they are unique and special individuals who have complete control over their own bodies and have every right to keep themselves and their bodies safe. We constantly emphasize on the fact that when someone breaks the touching rule, it is NEVER the fault of the victim.