The Importance of the Underwear Rule

If you’re a parent, you might well have heard of the NSPCC’s Underwear Rule campaign. It’s all about discussing privacy with your child. Teaching them that their body is their own and nobody has the right to touch it without their permission, except if there’s a medical reason and that should be explained. Teaching them that the parts of their body covered by underwear are private and are not to be seen or touched by anyone except perhaps when parents help with washing or, again, if there’s a medical reason which should always be explained as fully as possible. Teaching them that they can talk to you about anything, even if someone else told them it should be kept secret.

A lot of what is included in the campaign are things we had been telling Pip for a long while. We’ve always said that she shouldn’t keep secrets from us because we’re a family and should be open about everything. We haven’t put this in a ‘You’re not allowed to keep secrets because it’s naughty’ way, but more of a ‘You can talk to Mummy and Daddy about anything’ way.

A few weeks ago, she wandered in while I was in the shower without knocking. Now, this isn’t a big deal, she’s seen me without clothes before. It’s pretty much unavoidable. However, I did say that she should have knocked first and shouldn’t really come in the bathroom while someone is using it because that’s private. After I was out of the shower, I decided to use it as an opportunity to bring up the issue of privacy. I tried to explain that parts of our bodies are private. She asked which parts so, remembering the message from NSPCC, told her that everything that’s covered up by her pants are private. At which point, she looked a little confused and told me something.

‘But [name of little boy in her nursery class] put his hand in my pants.’

I was utterly shocked but stayed as calm as I could. I asked her to repeat what she had said, which she did, then asked in a very gentle tone if she was sure – she has made up things that people did at school before. We talked through the details of what had happened. While they had been playing outside, this boy had put his hand down the front of her pants. He also did the same to two other children. Pip had told him to get off of her but hadn’t really realised that it was so wrong. I explained that he shouldn’t have put his hand there because that’s a private place. I should point out that he did just place his hand in that area, nothing more than that, although that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a very concerning thing to happen.

I telephoned the nursery and, without saying why, asked to have a meeting with the teacher. It was arranged and, after dropping Pip off, I went in. I’ve always liked Pip’s teacher. She’s very enthusiastic and was very supportive when Pip had trouble settling in initially. When I described what Pip had told me, she looked very shocked. I relayed everything that Pip told me. She apologised that it hadn’t been noticed but really, I can’t expect that three adults can be looking at what every child in a class of about twenty is doing in every moment. From what Pip told me, the whole incident had taken a minute or less. The teacher said that she’d need to speak with her headteacher as there are procedures to follow in these circumstances. She promised to get back to me by the end of the day.

Husband managed to leave work early so that he could come with me to pick up Pip that afternoon and speak with the teacher. She took us to one side and explained that she had spoken with the headmaster and would be arranging to speak with the boy’s parents. She assured us that she and the other staff would be keeping an eye out for any similar behaviour. We were very satisfied with how they handled things.

The whole experience was pretty disturbing. Luckily, Pip had forgotten all about it within a couple of days. I hope she hasn’t forgotten what I tried to teach her about privacy. I think we’ll give gentle reminders when it’s relevant. She does at least knock before coming into the bathroom now so I suppose that’s progress.

Have you spoken to your children about privacy or the Underwear Rule? How did you approach it?

Thank you for reading.

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