Protective Behaviours: Self-protection for Your Child at ISSP

By: Karen Wise

Schools have a responsibility to equip children to keep themselves safe.

P.A.N.T.S as in underwear.

So what can parents do at home?

The concept of ‘Protective Behaviours’ is based on two key principles - we all have the right to feel safe all of the time, and we should feel safe enough to talk with someone about anything, whether it is an awful matter or something very small. Originating in the USA in the mid 1970s it was later developed into a teaching programme in Australia in the 1980s from where it then spread to the United Kingdom. Protective behaviours are widely taught to children from as young as two years to help them stay safe and deal with problems such as bullying. 

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The protective behaviours programme outlines strategies that can be used by anyone, including young children, to keep themselves safe and help reduce violence and abuse in our communities - a topic of increasing concern for all parents and families. Introduced into the ISSP curriculum three years ago, the Protective Behaviours lessons gives all students the skills to identify and avoid potentially unsafe situations they may face throughout their lives. Children are encouraged to recognise the power of their intuitive feelings as early warning signs of danger which should be trusted. Using age appropriate materials and tools for self protection the school’s dedicated teachers work, in conjunction with parents, to create confident and empowered young people capable of seeking the help of others when necessary. 

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Schools Have a Responsibility to Equip Children to Keep Themselves Safe

International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) believes that educators have a responsibility to equip children with the tools to keep themselves safe. School counsellor Ms. Kristin Wegner, a teacher with 16 years experience in teaching Protective Behaviours, takes care to stress that the school’s Protective Behaviours programme is not designed to make them afraid but to empower them to recognise potentially harmful situations and equip them with strategies they can use to deal with them. The focus is mostly on prevention. 

Parents are informed about Protective Behaviours and how they are taught at ISSP through regular workshops led by Ms. Kristin Wegner and conducted in both Vietnamese and English. During these events, parents have the opportunity to learn about what their children are being taught as well as picking up materials for use at home.

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When engaging with the children about strangers at ISSP Wegner explains that when they are first asked the question “what is a stranger?” answers vary by age naturally but many simply say “someone bad”. From here the conversation can be developed into how to identify a stranger and how you cannot tell by simply looking at someone whether they are good or bad. As adults we know that a smiley attractive person is not necessarily always a good person; conversely a grumpy looking person may just be having a bad day but young children do not have our sophistication. When talking about taking gifts from strangers Wegner shares that children often think that they shouldn’t take things from strangers because they might be poisoned when, in reality, the main reason is that if a child is close enough to take something that person is likely to be close enough to grab them. Three key messages need to be delivered in respect of encounters with strangers – don’t talk to, don’t take from, don’t EVER go with.

Another important aspect of the Protective Behaviours programme comes in the form of the concept of safe touch. Here, in terms that each age group can understand, children are introduced to the idea of safe, unsafe and unwanted touching through illustrated examples. Safe touching is described as a hug from someone they know, unwanted touching is if the hug comes from someone they don’t know and unsafe touching equates to something that hurts. Teachers deliver a clear message that their body belongs to them and they have the right to say “NO” if ever they feel uncomfortable and to do so in a clear, assertive voice. Regarding touching or looking at their private parts they are told simply that is never OK unless there is a good reason. If someone does this and insists it’s a secret this person knows it’s definitely not OK. To stay safe, they are reminded of three tips - say no, get away to a safe space and tell an adult. In the event that the adult they tell does not believe them they must keep telling other adults until one does no matter how long it takes or how much time has passed since the incident took place.

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P.A.N.T.S as in underwear

For those in Early Years education at ISSP the topic of appropriate and inappropriate touching is discussed using materials developed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a long established UK charity working in child protection. The NSPCC’s PANTS rules are... 

P - Privates are private 
A - Always remember your body belongs to you 
N - No means no
T - Talk about secrets that upset you
S - Speak up! Someone will listen

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These rules are explained by a friendly cartoon dinosaur Pantosaurus as he sings his catchy tune. In EY1 and EY2 children simply watch the short video of Pantosaurus and friends. In EY3 the class teacher shows the video alongside an accompanying lesson and in EY4 school Counsellor Wegner joins the class to ensure the consistency of delivery. When talking about bodies, Wegner stresses... 

“...it’s important for children to be taught the correct words – penis, vagina and buttocks – so that they can correctly express themselves”. 

Examples of good and bad touching are given and each child is encouraged to identify a safety network of five people – one for each finger of their “helping hand”. The PANTS materials are shared with all parents and families are encouraged to talk about them at home.

Students in grades KG through 5 are given instruction on protective behaviours too. Lessons are taught by school counselors and focus on stranger safety, safe and unsafe touching, consent, secrets and assertiveness.

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So what can parents do at home?

Plenty is the answer. Parents can help their child identify a safety network of five people for their “helping hand” to include adults from different areas of their lives – school, home, relatives or family friends. You should also reinforce what is being taught at school. Take time to talk to them about strangers, teach them about their bodies using the correct terms and remind them that their bodies belong to them, show them how to share their feelings by sharing your own, be honest and accurate and most importantly remind them of the safety rules... 

No, Go, Tell.

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Image source: ISSP

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