To help keep them safe, children need help to learn that there are parts of their own body it’s ok to show and touch in public and parts that are always covered in public and not ok to touch in public. This can be tricky for some children to learn because the concept of ‘public’ and ‘private’ is abstract.
Before you start teaching your child about appropriate behaviour, you may need to start by helping them to understand the difference between a public and a private place and which areas of the body are ‘private’.
Public places – Where other people are and where other people can see you. It can help to show pictures of familiar public places e.g. school, the park, your street, swimming pool. Example pictures, labels and ‘sorting basket’ game.
Private places – Where you are on your own and others can’t see you. Again, it can help to show pictures of familiar private places e.g. their bedroom, the bathroom in your house. It can also help to have ‘private’ signs on the doors of private spaces at home Example pictures, signs and ‘sorting basket’ game.
Private parts of the body – A popular way to teach this is to get a roll of lining paper and draw round your child’s body, so you have an outline drawing of their body. You can then label parts of the body, starting with parts it’s ok to show in public – arm, leg etc. Then label the nipples, bottom, penis/vulva and say that these are private parts of the body and that we don’t show them or touch them in public. You could draw underwear on them or use real underwear of your child’s to cover up these areas.
The NSPCC have a great booklet called the PANTS rule, which you might find helpful
Here’s a short animation that shows a young man moving from the private space of his bedroom in to the public space of the open front door, without getting dressed:
Getting dressed in appropriate clothes
Understanding that there are private spaces within public places can be confusing and you may need to help your child to understand this. This film clip shows that a toilet cubicle is only private (and therefore ok to take down trousers and pants) when the door is closed:
Appropriate behaviour when using a toilet cubicle
Urinal etiquette can be a minefield for some children! This film shows that the appropriate way to pee is to only undo the zip of the trousers, not to take the trousers and pants down to the ankles. It can also be helpful to teach children that, if possible you avoid standing next to someone at the urinal.
Appropriate behaviour at the urinals
When children are young it is easy to ignore or make light of them touching their penis or vulva in a public place but it is not considered ok for older children or adults to do this. Some children find it difficult to change patterns of behaviour that have been set in early childhood and need you to teach them early on that this behaviour is not ok. This film clip could be used to help you teach an older child:
Touching yourself in public
Children from a young age will touch their own penis or vulva for comfort but we would not call this masturbation until they have gone through puberty. At this stage of life it is really important that children know they cannot masturbate in a public place. This film clip is a useful way to teach these rules: