Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept: new book to help parents and kids discuss inappropriate touch

An interview with Jayneen Sanders

Originally published at Melinda Tankard Reist's blog. Scroll down to see a YouTube clip of Debra Byrne reading 'Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept.'

*Trigger warning* Discussion about child sexual assault which may be distressing for some.


 Pic: Sylvi Kreinberg

I’m often asked for resources for children to help them protect them from possible sexual abuse. There has been nothing I could recommend. Until now.

Melbourne author, primary school teacher and mother, Jayneen Sanders, has filled the gap by publishing a picture book for children titled Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept.

The book is designed to help parents and all who care for children.

I interviewed Jayneen about her book this week.

Jayneen, tell us why you wrote this book?

Three years ago, when I was on my children’s school council, I raised the subject of sexual abuse prevention education. I asked why we didn’t have such program. No-one could give me a good answer. I decided to do something about educating our children and our community about the importance of body safety.

I knew picture books could be a powerful medium when discussing difficult topics with children. As both a mother and a teacher I wanted to write a story that was neither confronting nor frightening for both parents and children.

We teach our children water safety and road safety - we need to also teach body safety from a young age. We know one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually interfered with before they reach the age of 18. So body safety needs to become a normal part of our parenting conversation. Remember we are not always there to protect our children so preventative education is the key.

Why do you think so few individuals and schools want to discuss the issue?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions parents and educators have (and I can understand this fear) is that in order to teach body safety to a child, they will need to talk to them about sex and/or the act of sexual abuse. This is just not the case. When we teach road safety to children, we do not show them graphic images of accidents, we simply tell them to look left and then right and then left again, and if the road is clear, walk (don’t run). It is the same with body safety. We simply teach young children a series of rules that can briefly be summarised as: “Your body is your body, no-one has the right to touch your private parts and if someone does, tell and keep telling”. There is no need to talk to the child about sex. This is a topic for another day.

I wrote Some Secrets so parents felt comfortable when teaching body safety and to make sure if a situation like the one Sir Alfred (the main character) encountered were to ever happen to a child they would know what to do. Forewarned is forearmed, and if children know inappropriate touch is wrong, then they are in a much better position to say something about it.

The National Safe Schools Framework states that protective behaviours (including sexual abuse prevention education) should be taught in schools — but, unfortunately, it is not mandatory. I hope that this will change in the 2013 Australian Curriculum.

Sexual abuse prevention is also the community’s responsibility. Parents should ask their child’s kinder, day-care centre or school if they are running such a program. If not, lobby for it. Child wise run excellent programs. There really is no excuse not to run a program in every school.

So children won’t be upset by the information?

I’d like to reassure parents that by reading Some Secrets to their children they will in no way upset, harm or unsettle their child. To children it is simply a storybook. They feel empathy for the little boy, but let me again assure parents that if anyone does ever touch their child inappropriately he or she will have the skills to know what to do. Children are very visual learners and they will remember this story.

You question the focus on ‘stranger danger’ and say it only perpetuates dangerous myths. Can you explain?

Only five percent of child sex offenders will be caught and convicted for their crimes. The shadowy figures that may be hanging around public toilets and anonymous paedophilies grooming our children on-line are statistically not where the majority of the threat lies. Ninety three percent of children will know their perpetrator and only three percent of abused children will ever tell of their abuse. It is important to remember that offenders always plan their abuse of children and rarely target confident kids. If it is likely a child will tell, the perpetrator will not risk their secret being revealed and is more likely to not target that child.

What has been the response to the book so far?

The response has been extremely positive and I know we have already done what we set out to do: provide children with the knowledge of what to do if they are ever touched inappropriately. Craig Smith’s sensitive, non-threatening and beautifully-drawn illustrations make the book perfect to use with young children (the book can be read to children from 3 to 12 years). The Teacher’s Pack has been selling strongly which is very gratifying as it suggests the message is going to reach many children.

Body safety tips for children

Jayneen recommends the following tips to help keep your child safe.

1. As soon as your child begins to talk and is aware of their body parts, begin to name them correctly, e.g. toes, nose, eyes, etc. Children should also know the correct names for their genitals from a young age. Try not to use ‘pet names’. This way, if a child is touched inappropriately, they can clearly state to you or a trusted adult where they have been touched.

2. Teach your child that their penis, vagina, bottom, breasts and nipples are called their ‘private parts’ and that these are their body parts that go under their swimsuit.

3. Teach your child that no-one has the right to touch their private parts/private zones and if someone does, they must tell you or a trusted adult (or older teenager) straight away. As your child becomes older (4+) help them to identify five people they could tell.

4. At the same time as you are discussing inappropriate touch, talk about feelings. Discuss what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, excited, etc. Encourage your child in daily activities to talk about their feelings. This way your child will be more able to verbalise how they are feeling if someone does touch them inappropriately.

5. Talk with your child about feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. Discuss times when your child might feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘safe’. For example, when feeling ‘safe’, they may feel happy and have a warm feeling inside; when feeling ‘unsafe’ they may feel scared and have a sick feeling in their tummy.

6. Discuss with your child their ‘early warning signs’ when feeling unsafe, i.e. heart racing, feeling sick in the tummy, sweaty palms, feeling like crying. Let them come up with some ideas of their own. Tell your child that they must tell you if any of their ‘early warning signs’ happen in any situation. Reinforce that you will always believe them and that they can tell you anything.

7. As your child grows, try as much as possible to discourage the keeping of secrets. Talk about happy surprises such as not telling Granny about her surprise birthday party and ‘bad’ secrets such as someone touching your private parts. Make sure your child knows that if someone does ask them to keep an inappropriate secret that they must tell you or someone in their network straight away.

8. Discuss with your child when it is appropriate for someone to touch their private parts, e.g. a doctor if they are sick. Discuss with your child that if someone does touch their private parts (without you there) they have the right to say: ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’

The book can be purchased here:

Listen to the book being read by Debra Byrne:

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