The NSPCC has come up with a set of guidelines called ‘The Underwear Rules’ which can help keep children safe from abuse. The set of rules are not sexually explicit and use simple terms that children of all ages can understand. Using the acronym PANTS, the NSPCC hopes that with their guidance on how to talk to children and by implementing the rules, children will be much more knowledgeable about what is acceptable behaviour from adults, and how to deal with possibly dangerous situations.
Here is a simplified version of PANTS – The Underwear Rule
Privates are private
Explain to your child that any part of their body that is covered by their underwear is private, and no one should be allowed to see or touch them, apart from doctors, nurses or some family members. These people should always explain why and ask you if this is ok.
Always remember your body belongs to you
Your child should know that it is their body and no one else has the right to touch it or make them feel uncomfortable. They also have the right to say no.
No means no
No means no even to family members as this shows the child is in control of their body and their feelings should be respected.
Talk about secrets that upset you
Tell your child there are good and bad secrets; good secrets can be surprise parties or presents, and bad secrets make you feel sad or worried. You child should feel that they can tell you any secrets and they won’t be in trouble.
Speak up, someone can help
Reiterate to your child that if they ever feel anxious or frightened they should talk to a trusted adult they trust. This can be a family member or a teacher or ChildLine.
So now we have the rules, what are the best ways of communicating these to your child? The NSPCC recommend small conversations with your child, and not tackling all the points in one long lecture. Children have short attention spans and will lose interest quickly. Add a talk to your daily routine to normalise the conversations and make it seem as if they are a part of being safe and not a big deal.
Some examples of good situations in which to talk to your child are in the car, where you are both facing the same way and not looking at each other. Or out for a walk or on the way to school; situations where you are doing something familiar will help to take the weirdness out of the conversation.
Use everyday situations to bring up the topic of the Underwear Rule, such as a news item on the TV, or when you are going swimming, or something the child has heard at school.
Talk in phrases your child will understand and don’t shy away from awkward questions; the more open and willing you are to talk about these topics the more confident your child will be in coming to you.
Ask your child to think about the adults in their lives who they trust and can talk to, so that they become aware of a support network even if that doesn’t include you. And if your child does not want to talk, don’t force them, wait for a more appropriate time to discuss the issues.
It is also important to share with other adults that your child knows about the Underwear Rule, especially those who might be in regular contact with them or care for them.
Finally, always keep the lines of communication open with your child and remember that as they get older they will have more questions and a greater capacity of understanding.
You can find more information and advice at NSPCC.org.uk