Group of smiling teens

Child Safety and Personal Development

Catholic schools nurture the development of the whole person and care deeply about the safety and holistic care of each child. Catholic schools seek to provide quality education in:

  • Body Safety Education
  • Human Development, Change and Puberty
  • Respectful Relationships
  • Consent Education

Catholic schools support the important role families have in the full development of each child - physically, intellectually, spiritually, socially and emotionally. The following resources can assist families to explore these dimensions throughout all stages of children and young people’s development and growth.

Body Safety Education

Keeping children safe, and building their own capacity and skills to keep themselves safe, is an important part of children’s development. We need to teach children to advocate for, and participate in, their own and others’ safety. Parents play a critical role in helping their children to develop this important knowledge and capability. When both schools and families teach children about body safety, we can all contribute to helping our children grow up safe, secure and healthy.

Teaching protective behaviours

Key body safety skills can be taught to children so that they know they have the right to be safe and listened to. Body safe education at school explores topics such as:

  • Assertiveness
  • Feelings
  • Body awareness and rules about touch
  • Identifying unsafe situations and how to get help from trusted adults.

Body safe education is about providing children with information and skills that can help prevent child abuse, without making children frightened of their world. You can read more about each of the 5 key elements of body safe education below or view this short animated video that is also suitable for children to watch.

My Body Safety Rules - 5 Things Every Child Should Know

You can talk in more depth about the 5 key concepts of body safe education with your child which will help strengthen their learning in this area:

#1 Body Ownership - Safe and Unsafe Touch

Teach your child that the space around them belongs to them. You can explain that everyone has an invisible bubble around them called their ‘space bubble’. Our space bubble can be smaller with people we know well and love like our family and friends, and it can be larger with strangers and others we don’t know so well. This is their own personal space that no one has the right to enter without their permission. Parents can also teach children words and actions to use when someone is invading their space bubble and making them uncomfortable. Explain that children can move away or ask the person to move further away from them.

It is also important to talk to your children about safe and unsafe touch. To help your child understand this you can give them a rule. Teach them it is NOT okay for anyone to look at or touch their private parts, or what is covered by their swimsuits. It is easier for a child to follow a rule, and they will more immediately recognize a "bad touch" if they have this guideline in mind. 

You can use the resources below to help explain this in a child friendly way:

This short video explains safe and unsafe touch in a clear way and is suitable for young children.

Safe Touch / Unsafe Touch Animated Video

This poster provides very simple information about safe and unsafe touch areas of the body. 

Bathing Suit Rule Poster

#2 Early Warning Signs

It’s important to explain to children that early warning signs are the body’s way of telling us we don’t feel safe.  Warning signs can include:

  • Physical feelings such as sweaty palms, wobbly legs or knees, butterflies in the tummy, a pounding heart, crying, feeling sick etc. 
  • Emotional feelings such as feeling confused, worried, fearful, angry.

It’s important to explain to children that they can experience these feelings both in safe and unsafe situations. It might be helpful to talk through the following examples:

  • You are in a fun situation but feel scared such as on a ride or watching a movie that is scary. 
  • You are doing something that makes you worried or nervous like giving a speech to the class, playing an important sports game, going to the dentist, getting a needle etc.
  • When it is not fun and you have no choice or control. This is an unsafe situation. 

You might like to read this story and consider sharing it with your child when you feel the time is right. This book helps highlight the warning signs that Elizabeth Grace felt in her body during an unsafe situation. 

God Gave Elizabeth Grace the Right to Feel Safe.

#3 My Safety Network

Talk to your child about the people that they could talk to if they feel uncomfortable or have seen something they didn’t want to. These are people that you and your child trust completely. 

This short video talks about why safety networks are important and how to make one with your child.

How to Make a Safety Network

This simple printable guide will help your child name and record their safety network.

Printable Safety Network for Families

#4 Secrets

It is important to discuss with your child the difference between healthy and unhealthy secrets. One way to do this is to talk about the differences between secrets and surprises. 

Surprises have a happy ending and everyone will find out about it at some time (like a surprise party). Ask your child to list some other examples of surprises. There are also bad secrets, which make you feel sad and uncomfortable. Children need to know that they always need to tell you bad secrets, even if the person telling them the secret asks them not to.  Then discuss with your child the kinds of secrets that are NOT safe:

  • Any kind of touch that someone tells you to keep a secret.
  • Games that might break your safety rules or that might be hurtful to anyone.
  • Presents that other people give you or favours that they do for you that they tell you to keep a secret.
  • Any kind of secret that makes you feel worried.

Parents and carers may like to view this reading of the story 'Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept' which sensitively broaches the subject of keeping children safe from inappropriate touch. If you consider it appropriate for your child, you could share it with them and then chat about the following:

  • Was Lord Henry a stranger? 
  • What did Lord Henry do to get Alfred to like him and trust him?
  • How did you know Alfred did not feel safe?
  • What did Lord Henry do to try and make Alfred keep it secret?
  • Was this a secret that Alfred should have kept?
  • Who could you talk to if you don’t feel safe?
#5 Protective Strategies

Teaching your child to be assertive is important. Assertiveness is a way to communicate feelings, thoughts, opinions and beliefs in a respectful manner. Assertiveness is an important skill to teach children as a protective strategy. A key assertiveness strategy to teach children is the No Go Tell Strategy which empowers children to deal with unsafe situations. It is essential to teach children that their body belongs to them and that they have the right to say no and get help.

No Go Tell Strategy

NO!: If someone touches our private parts or breaks another rule about our private parts, we need to tell them “NO!” or “STOP!” in a big, strong voice. Practice with your child. They can practice saying No loudly and put their hands outstretched in front of their body . 

GO: The next thing to do if someone breaks a rule about our private parts is to move away from them straight away to a safe place. A safe place is somewhere there are people that the child knows and trusts. Talk with your child about different safe places. 

TELL: The next step is to tell an adult who you trust about what happened so they can help you.

The following song can be used to teach your child to be assertive.

I'm the Boss of my Own Body

Personal Development and Puberty

Children begin learning about puberty and human development in Personal Development, Health and Physical Education lessons toward the end of Year 3 and continue through to Year 10. The content is delivered in age appropriate ways and within the context of Catholic values. These units of study include a number of important topics including:

  • Child protection and safety
  • Human development and puberty
  • Respectful relationships
  • Human sexuality

Education in human development and sexuality is primarily the responsibility of parents. However, this responsibility has never been an easy one and there are many aspects of our society that can make it especially challenging. Catholic schools welcome and encourage families and schools to work together to help children develop positive and healthy attitudes and behaviours about their physical, emotional, mental and social development. Here are some helpful resources for you as you support and educate your child about these important topics.

#1 Starting Conversations about Bodies and Development Early

Starting conversations about human development and physical changes early in an age appropriate way helps to ensure that you become your child's trusted source when it comes to these topics. There are many other ways young children can learn about human development and sexuality that can be negative, incorrect and in some cases harmful. So parents are encouraged to ditch the idea of sitting down for one single 'birds and the bees' talk' when their child hits puberty and replace that with a series of age-appropriate chats, whenever opportunities present themselves, about both male and female puberty.

When children are toddlers or preschoolers, they start asking questions about their bodies – and even yours. It can be stressful if you aren’t prepared or sure about the answers – but it doesn’t need to be! If you start early and talk to them often, then talking about puberty when they get older will be a lot easier.

It is also helpful to tie in your conversations at home with what your child is learning in their PDHPE lessons. Children will learn the following in Year Three and Four:

  • Describe changes associated with puberty, eg menstruation, body hair, feelings, attraction to others and identify strategies to manage these changes, eg talking to parents/carers
  • Discuss changes that happen as people get older and how this can impact on how they think and feel about themselves and different situations, eg friendships, loss and grief, personal identity

Some tips about these early conversations include:

  • Use day-to-day situations to trigger conversations. Kids will ask questions.
  • Answer your child’s questions with just enough information to satisfy their curiosity. Keep things short when talking to younger children and appropriate to their age. A young child asking about the differences between girls and boys, does not need a long explanation about reproduction and sexual intercourse.
  • Use actual body part language for genitals.
  • Try not to look uncomfortable or embarrassed, so your kids don’t feel that way either.
#2 The Onset of Puberty

Some parents don’t always feel confident about talking to their children about puberty and sexuality but having conversations that connect to what your child is learning in PDHPE lessons is an easy and more natural way to introduce these conversations into your family life if you are feeling unsure.

In Year 5 and 6 PDHPE lessons students learn to:

  • Recognise and understand types of change, eg physical changes, changing feelings towards other people
  • Understand that individuals experience change associated with puberty at different times, intensity and with different responses
  • Explore the function and interrelationship of body systems
  • Identify and evaluate age-appropriate sources of information to enhance understanding of changes associated with growth and development
  • Investigate help-seeking strategies to manage changes associated with puberty, eg talking to trusted adults, accessing health products and services

Here are some tips for talking to your child:

  • Find out what your children already know by asking them what they have been learning about in their PDHPE lessons. Ask them if they’d like to ask you any questions.
  • If your child seeks you out to ask questions, praise your child. This will make them feel comfortable to keep seeking you out to talk to.
  • Puberty brings many changes for your child which can make some children uncertain or worried. One of the best ways to support your child is by providing them with information about the changes they will experience and regularly reassuring them that their experiences are completely normal and natural. It is particularly important to share with them the following information so they know what to expect during this time of significant change.
#3 What to Expect during Puberty

The changes of puberty are physical, sexual, social and emotional. Puberty starts when changes in your child’s brain cause hormones to be released in the body and can occur any time between 8 to 14 years.

What to Expect: Physical changes

During puberty, most children will experience:

  • Increased oiliness of skin and hair
  • Increased perspiration and body odour (frequent showering and deodorant help)
  • A growth spurt (of around 11 cm a year in girls and up to 13 cm a year in boys). Teens continue to grow about 1–2 cm a year after this main growth spurt. Some body parts (such as head and hands) may grow faster than limbs and torso. The body eventually evens out.

Girls will experience:

  • breast development and possible tenderness
  • a change in their figure, including widening of the hips
  • growth of pubic and underarm hair
  • the start of menstruation – periods may be irregular at first. It is particularly important to prepare girls for menstruation before it commences as prior knowledge helps relieve any fear they might experience. Some girls start menstruation as young as 10 years of age.

Boys will experience:

  • growth of the penis and testes (testicles). Sometimes the growth of the testes is uneven (that is, one testis grows faster than the other). This is not something to worry about
  • growth of pubic, underarm and facial hair
  • the start of testosterone production, which stimulates the testes to produce sperm
  • the start of erections and ejaculation
  • growth of the larynx or voice box – the voice ‘breaks’ and eventually deepens. Voice variations are normal and will settle in time.

Your child may also be sensitive about how they look and their new body changes. Privacy and personal space may become very important to them and should be respected.

What to Expect: Social and Emotional Changes

Puberty is more than a physical experience. Mood changes and energy level variations are normal parts of puberty, as are swings between feeling independent and wanting parental support. Feelings of confidence and self-consciousness also vary widely during this time.

Conversations about puberty should also be more than an explanation of facts. It is also a time to continue to talk about your family’s values and beliefs around moral decision making, respect for others and the recognition of the dignity of every human person regardless of the differences which may be more apparent during this time of change.

#4 Puberty Resources

Michelle Mitchell is one of Australia’s most respected speakers and writers on parenting adolescents. Watch her video to get some expert advice on how to have these critical conversations successfully with your children. You can also read these tips in the article below.

Michelle Mitchell: Video 3 Tips for Conversations about Puberty
Michelle Mitchell: How to Talk to Children About Puberty: Ten How-to Strategies to Get Things Started