Author Archives: Janelle Durham

About Janelle Durham

I teach Discovery Science Lab and Family Inventors' Lab, STE(A)M enrichment classes in Bellevue, Washington for ages 3 - 9. I am also a parent educator for Bellevue College, a childbirth educator for Parent Trust for Washington Children, former program designer for PEPS - the Program for Early Parent Support, and a social worker.

“Tricky People” vs. “Stranger Danger”

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Why Not Teach Stranger Danger?

For decades, parents and educators have taught the idea of stranger danger. There are several flaws to this message:

  • It creates a culture of fear. It can be frightening to a child to be out in public when they’ve been told that all the strangers around them are people to be feared.
  • Talking about “bad people” means that our children are on the lookout for people who look and act evil: the mustache-twirling, black-clad villain. Most people who perpetrate crimes against children are nice looking and quite charming.
  • Talking about “odd looking” or “dangerous looking” people or “people who don’t look like us” can lead to racial profiling and prejudiced attitudes.
  • Creating fear of strangers might mean that our children are afraid to seek help from adults when needed – such as a lost child who is too frightened to approach a security guard to help find their parents, or a lost child who evades rescuers because they are strangers to him.
  • Crimes against children are relatively rare. When they do happen, it is much more likely that they are committed by someone the child knows than by a stranger.
    • For child sexual abuse, only 10% of perpetrators are strangers, 60% are non-family members who are known to the child and family, 30% are family members. Source. In 23% of reported cases the perpetrator was under the age of 18.  (Stats for Canada here.)
    • We may worry about the stereotypical kidnapping where a stranger abducts a child. There are only about 105 of those a year in the US, where there are 17 million children. In 90% of kidnapping cases, the kidnappers are family members, usually non-custodial parents. Source.
    • If our children have been taught that strangers are always bad, but that the people they know are always “safe”, then we have not protected them.

I don’t want my children to be frightened of all the new people they encounter. I want my children, and the children I work with, to feel safe in their world. Children are happiest and learn best when they feel safe. I tell children, through my words, my body language, and my interactions, that the vast majority of people are good people. Even a stranger who looks very different from the people I interact with every day is most likely a good person.

But, when children are around three years old is a good time to start talking about “tricky people.” They’re not a certain kind of people (like strangers, or like people whose skin is a different color from my own) but they are any person who displays certain odd behaviors. Those behaviors should raise red flags for a child, and let them know they should check in with a trusted adult for advice on how to respond.

What are Tricky People?

Here are some things to tell your child to watch out for. Tricky people may:

  • ask kids for help (such as help finding a lost puppy or pretending to be hurt)
    • If safe grown-ups really need help, they’ll ask other grown-ups. Your child should know that if an adult asks them for help, they should go speak to a trusted adult.
  • try to arrange for alone time with a child
    • Let your child know that it’s best not to go somewhere alone with one adult unless a trusted adult has told them it’s OK.
  • try to make one particular kid feel special, lavishing praise and gifts
    • Tell your child if someone offers to give them something (candy, money, a kitten), they shouldn’t take it and say they need to ask their parents if that is OK.
  • ask kids to do something that breaks the family rules, or just doesn’t feel right
    • Teach your child to think about whether an interaction feels fine or gives them an uncomfortable “uh-oh” feeling. Encourage them to trust their instincts.
  • ask kids to keep a secret from their parents or their teacher, or threatens something like “if you tell, you’ll be in big trouble”
    • Any time this happens, a child should tell their parent or a teacher.
  • touches a child a lot (tickling, wrestling, asking for hugs), especially if they get angry or unhappy if the child says no to the touch
  • touches a child in a private area, asks a child to touch their private parts, asks to see a child’s private areas, asks to take pictures of private area, or shows a child their private areas
  • tells the child “there’s an emergency. You need to come with me right now.” Note: For children over 5, it can be a good idea to establish a password (see below).

How to Help Your Child be “Street Smart”

Here are some things we can do to help our kids be safe:

For a child age 1 and up

  • Teach them their name and their parents’ name(s)
  • Under three years old, I don’t talk about “tricky people” or “bad people.” But, if I am in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I show it with my body language, and I tell my child “I don’t like being here… I don’t feel safe right now. We’re going to leave.” Even at this age, I want to start teaching them to trust their instincts.
  • Tell them they need to stay near you when you’re out in public, set boundaries – tell them where it’s OK to go and what’s not OK. If they step outside those limits, or refuse to hold your hand in a parking lot, or whatever guidelines you have set, then there should be consequences (e.g. you need to leave the park, or you need to carry them in the parking lot.)
  • When going anyplace where you might become separated, put your contact info somewhere on them (e.g. on a card in their pocket, on a bracelet, etc.). Also, take a picture of them that day with your phone so if you become separated you have a photo of what they look like and they are wearing.
  • Teach healthy touch: high fives and fist bumps, patting on the back, brief hugs, etc. Don’t force your child to give a hug to someone if they are not comfortable.
  • Teach them names for their body parts, including private parts. It is best to use commonly used terms (e.g. penis or vagina), not family euphemisms. Feeling comfortable with these words makes it possible for a child to explain if something inappropriate happens. (Learn more.)

For a child age 3 and up

Everything listed above, plus:

  • Be sure they know their address, parents’ names, and parents’ phone numbers.
  • Help them know what adults you trust. Tell them: “if you ever feel scared or need help, then ____ and _____ are adults you can talk to.”
    • Talk to them about how to find a trustworthy stranger if they somehow become separated from you and need help. Some parents teach to look for a police officer, but they’re not always around. So, I also tell my children to look for a person who is working there – I help them identify workers – they’re standing behind the check-out counter, or they’re wearing a uniform. I also tell them they could go to another parent – someone who has a child with them. From time to time, we practice this – I ask my child to look around and identify two people who they could ask for help if needed. Also, point out “safe spots” – the places they are most likely to find helpful people.
    • Talk to them about “tricky people” and what behaviors are red flags. Don’t try to cover it all in one big “talk” – it should be an on-going dialogue.
    • If your child is uncomfortable around someone and wants to avoid that person, don’t dismiss this. Respect your child’s instincts.
  • If you go somewhere you might get separated (the zoo, an amusement park, a large event), talk to them on the way there about the importance of staying close to you the whole time. Tell them that if they look around and can’t find you, they should stop where they are and you will find them.
  • By the time they are three, teach them that the parts of their body that are covered by a swimsuit are private. They should be kept covered around other people, and other people should not touch them there, except for parents or caregivers who are briefly helping to clean them, or a doctor, when the parents are in the room.
  • Don’t label your child’s clothes or backpacks with their name in big, visible letters. “Tricky” adults often use a child’s name to convince the child they are safe.

As your child gets older, and more independent:

Everything listed above, plus

  • They should know contact info for multiple trusted adults, and have a plan for how they could contact them. (For a younger child who doesn’t have a cell phone, they should know how to seek adult help. For older kids with phones, they need plans for what to do if their phone battery dies.)
  • If going someplace  you may get separated, have a plan in advance for where you would meet up again. Make sure they can describe it to you, and from time to time, ask them “do you remember where our meet-up place is? Can you point to where it is?”
  • A responsible adult should always know where they are. Set boundaries on where they can go, ask that they check in with you from time to time, and require that they check in if their plans change.
  • In the places they frequent, they should be able to list “safe spots” where they could go for help if they were feeling worried – for example, if someone at the park was making them uncomfortable, they could go into the nearby convenience store. They should also know to avoid unsafe spots – isolated areas with no one around.
  • They should know how and in what circumstances to call 9-1-1.
  • They should know never to answer the door when they are home alone.
  • They should know never to approach a stranger’s car. If someone calls them over to a car, they should not go.
  • When out and about, they should use the buddy system, not go places alone.
  • If someone offers them money, or an easy job, they should be wary.
  • Consider a family password so that if you ever could need to send an unexpected adult to pick them up in case of emergency, your child could ask that adult for the password to be sure it’s really someone you sent. You could also use that code word or another one for your child to communicate to you “I’m feeling unsafe and I need your help.”
  • Tell them to trust their instincts. If they’re worried about something, they should talk to you or another trusted adult who can help them problem-solve. If they’re very frightened, they should call 9-1-1 or shout for help. Tell them it is better to seek help and find out that everything is actually OK than it is to not seek help when things really are bad.
  • Give kids examples of “tricky behavior”; have them describe how they would respond.
  • Don’t talk about “bad touch” because sometimes sexual touch can feel good or can “tickle.” Instead, talk about “secret touch” that the other person wants you to hide from people, or touch that makes them feel wrong after it happened. Let children know that if anyone ever touches them in an inappropriate way (or makes the child touch them), that it’s not the child’s fault and they will not be in trouble with you. Perpetrators may first involve children by showing them pornography – let your child know that if someone shows them pornography, they should let you know.
  • Explain that you’re teaching safety rules because they are more mature and ready to be responsible. You want to give them more freedom, but you also need to be reassured that they know how to stay safe.

Letting Your Children Out of Your Sight

Here’s an example of how this could play out: My six year old wanted to be able to sit on the front porch and read while I was inside making dinner. We set boundaries: “you can sit on the porch swing. You may not leave the porch or step onto the driveway or the path to the sidewalk.” We reminded him of tricky people ideas: “we have lots of people walk by the house. Remember, that most people are good people. If they wave or say hi, you can say hi back. However, if they ask you to leave the porch, they’re being tricky and you need to come inside and get us. If they step off the sidewalk onto our driveway or path, you need to come in right away. Even if it’s someone you know from church or school, I would still want you to come inside and get me.” We let him know that as long as he could follow the rules, he could have porch-sitting privileges. But if he ever violated those rules, he would lose those privileges.

Deciding to let a child play outside unsupervised, or let an older child go places without you, requires a leap of faith on your part. It can be scary to take that risk. But remember that keeping them at home and in sight at all times also creates risks – it limits their potential to be active, independent, decision-making people.

Part of parenting is teaching our kids the skills they need to know so that later on, they don’t need us so much any more. This is just one of many things that we do to prepare them to be out in the world on their own.

Handouts: If you’re a parent educator who would like to share this information with families, I’ve created a 4 page handout and 2 page handout of this information.

Related Topics: Check out my posts on Better You Than YouTube – Having the Hard Conversations, Talking to Children about Sexuality; Talking to Children about Touch, Consent and Bodily Autonomy; and Talking about Scary Topics (e.g. violence, natural disasters, accidents, etc.)

More Resources

Stimming: Self-Soothing Behaviors

What is Stimming?

Have you seen a child flapping their hands? Elbows bent, hands up by their face, hands flapping like bird wings?

Some children may do it when they’re worried or anxious. Other children may show this behavior when they’re excited or happy, as in this video.

(You can see other examples of excited hand flapping / stimming at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD9OPDUVejo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_gZqQy_Ae4.)

Hand-flapping is an example of a self-soothing behavior. There are several other self-soothing behaviors children use, like rocking, thumb sucking, jumping, spinning, humming, hair twirling, or lining objects up in a row. These repetitive behaviors might be called “stimming” for self-stimulating, or stereotypy.

This is common in toddlers, then tends to become less common as they get older – fading in the preschool years. But some children continue to do it. Parents of older children who still do this often view it as a problem that needs to be solved, and may say things like “how do I stop my child from flapping their hands?”

Let’s first figure out why children stim, and then think about how to respond to it.

Why do people stim?

When you’re nervous, do you ever bounce your knee? Or bite your lip? Or wring your hands? When you’re impatient, do you tap your foot or drum your fingernails? Have you ever been so excited that you want to bounce up and down? Or clap your hands and squeal? Or throw your hands up in a victory celebration? When there is a sudden loud noise, do you cover your ears? When you’re waiting on hold on the phone, do you click your pen up and down, pace, or rock your chair? Do you mumble to yourself or swear repeatedly to communicate your frustrations? These are things we all do. These things could be called “stimming” because our brains/bodies are seeking to regulate stimulation, whether that’s to distract us when we’re bored or soothe us when we’re anxious or release tension or express big emotions. Having stimulation that we chose can help us to regulate our brains/senses.

Neurotypical folks can typically stop themselves from doing these behaviors if they feel like it’s not appropriate where they are, or if they’re disturbing someone or if they don’t want other people to notice them.

Some people have a hard time stopping themselves from stimming or are very uncomfortable if forced to stop. This can be a sign of autism, though not everyone who stims is autistic. (If your child is over 3 years old, and frequently flaps their hands or uses other stims and also shows other possible signs of autism, it’s a good idea to learn more about autism, learn more about deciding whether to have your child assessed for autism, and how to access developmental testing.)

If you want to better understand why someone is flapping or stimming, here are ideas to explore:

  • Determine what triggers the behavior. Is it too much stimulation? stress? excitement overload? Or boredom? (too little stimulation)
  • If you change the environment (for example, making it quieter and more peaceful), does that change the frequency of the stimming?
  • If you give them an acceptable alternative for boring circumstances where they have to sit still (like having a fidget spinner in class or a coloring book at church), does that reduce the stimming?
  • Does it help if you “notice” and validate the underlying feelings: “It looks like you’re really excited about this.” Or if you notice what’s triggering their behavior: “it is really loud here – that’s bothering you isn’t it?”
  • If it only happens in certain situations or certain moods, it can be easier to understand and to influence. If they do it all the time in all circumstances, it may have become a habit, and making changes to the environment or activities may not change it.
  • Are they seeking attention? An autistic child who is stimming typically does not care whether others notice. Some neurotypical children may do behaviors like stimming because they notice that they get a lot of attention when they do. If you have realized they only do these things when they have an audience, stop paying attention to the performance and see if the behavior fades.
  • Can you re-direct their attention to some other activity? If so, then do. Or is it really hard for them to stop? This perseveration may be more common for autistic children.

Do we need to stop a child from stimming?

Before deciding that stimming needs to be “fixed”, it’s important to ask autistic people about autistic experiences to get their perspective. In her post “the Obsessive Joy of Autism“, Julia Bascom, current Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) says

“One of the things about autism is that a lot of things… are harder. But some things? Some things are so much easier. Sometimes being autistic means that you get to be incredibly happy. And then you get to flap… I  flap a lot when I think about Glee or when I finish a sudoku puzzle… I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy. Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can be so happyso enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious.”

Julia Bascom

And another perspective from an individual with an autism spectrum disorder:

No one should try to stop hand flapping because it is part of who we are. Would you like it if everyone were trying to make you stop smiling? … Or putting your sunglasses on top of your head? Or crossing your legs when you sat? That is what people are doing to us when they try to make us stop flapping our hands: they are trying to force us to stop moving in ways that are natural, healthy, and comfortable to us.

Good Autism School

I know many autistic adults who may “mask” at work and in public – acting in ways that are considered neurotypical. This helps them to fit in better but can be exhausting. When they are amongst friends and family, they may stim when it soothes them or gives them joy.

My son is 11 – his current stims are making random sudden noises, and the need to say the same thing multiple times in a row. (Typically either something he’s really excited about or something he’s saying to talk himself out of being worried about something.) Our family knows that saying things multiple times is soothing to him, so we roll with it at home. But we do let him know that it can annoy other people or lead peers to shun him, and we asked him if he wanted our help figuring out other ways to manage this – like writing things down on post-its he brings home from school. Random noises are OK at home, but we asked him if he wanted ideas for alternate things he can do elsewhere when he has that energy that won’t disturb others, like blowing out a puff of air instead of making a noise, or flicking his fingers.

If the stimming isn’t causing problems for the child, you don’t need to “fix” it.

When is stimming a problem to work on?

  • When it interrupts other activities (e.g. their hands are so busy flapping, they can’t use them to do other things),
  • When it is blocking learning (e.g. they are frequently being asked to leave the classroom because they’re overly disruptive),
  • When it affects your child’s ability to make friends,
  • If your child is accidentally harming themselves or others, or
  • If the child themself wants to reduce the behavior or wants to learn to mask when they choose to

What are ways we might reduce stimming?

First, never punish stimming. This would be like punishing a child for crying. Or for laughing. Don’t criticize or shame a child for stimming.

Here are some supportive methods to try that might reduce stimming if it has become a problem:

  • Increase physical activity: If the child gets more exercise (especially heavy work) or spends more time outside, does that reduce stimming behavior?
  • Change environments: Can you spend more time in environments that the child finds calming and less time in places / circumstances that overload them?
  • Place and Time: Can you set times and places where stimming is welcomed? That might help reduce their need to do it in situations where it is more problematic.
  • Replacement behaviors: Are there other things they can do with their body that meet the same needs? Maybe hand clapping, hand pressing (like in a prayer position), playing with play-dough, or using a fidget toy. If they are stimming, instead of saying “don’t flap”, re-direct them to the replacement behavior: “get your calming bottle.” When you see them proactively choosing a replacement behavior instead of stimming, praise that.
  • Overcorrection: Sometimes flapping hands really hard and fast for a just a short while, or jumping hard and fast for a little while, will help get it out of their system quicker.
  • Release Tension: One of the reasons for stimming is to release tension – are there other effective releases – laughter, crying over sad movies, journaling or drawing?
  • Build emotional literacy: Teach and practice emotional regulation skills (Check out the Zones of Regulation tools.)
  • Raise awareness and make plans: When the child is stimming, you could briefly comment on it to help them be aware. If you notice common triggers, you may help your child notice those. Then you can work together on an action plan. For example, if noise and crowds overwhelm them, you might plan a trip to the zoo for a Tuesday afternoon rather than Saturday morning. Prepare and inform: when you’re approaching an event that might cause your child stress, let them know and talk about ways they might manage that.
  • Professional support: A therapist to address anxiety can help. An occupational therapist trained in sensory integration can help with regulation. (You may also see information about ABA therapy. That can help, but be very cautious about this option, as much of ABA therapy is framed around the idea of “fixing” autism by training children to behave “normally” and withholding rewards when they show autistic behaviors. I recommend you not choose places that define stimming as a problem, instead choose one that offers alternatives to stimming that a child could choose to use instead.)
  • Parent support: Talking to other parents of kids with challenging behaviors can be a huge help, as you learn you’re not alone in your worries. It can also help parents to talk with a parent educator, parent coach, or therapist to discuss their own concerns.

Learn more:

Picture Books about Touch and Consent

These books are aimed at children age 3 – 8, and teach many aspects of consent, types of touch, the right to bodily autonomy, and prevention of sexual abuse. You can also check out my post on how to talk to your child about touch and consent.

Most Recommended

If I had to choose just one, I might start with one of these two.

My Body Belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes by Pro Familia and Geisler. (Video) Age 3 – 6. A girl talks about the touch she likes – sitting with friends, hug from Dad, sitting on Grandma’s lap. Then about how she sometimes doesn’t like to be touched. Or touched in certain ways: tickled too much, sloppy kisses. So she says “Stop. Don’t Touch Me. I don’t want you to.” It says if someone doesn’t stop, then tell a trusted person. Ends with “your body belongs only to you.” This book probably has the clearest, most complete message about bodily autonomy. It’s long for a three year old, and not quite as fun a read as some of the books below. [Note this is different than the other “My Body Belongs to Me” by Starishevsky – see below.]

Let’s Talk about Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Sanders and Jennings. (Video) Ages 5 – 8. Starts with the idea of body boundaries – draw an imaginary bubble around yourself – no one should come inside that boundary without asking. If someone wants to hug someone, they should ask. The person might say yes – it’s OK to hug because both people are happy about it. The person might say no – respect that. If they say they’re not sure or don’t answer, that’s not a yes, so don’t hug. It’s OK to say no to others – it’s your body and what you say goes. If someone doesn’t respect that, tell a trusted adult. Excellent – but too long – you would want to spread it over multiple readings.

More Recommendations

Here are lots of other ideas, in order from those appropriate for the youngest audience on up. Also check out the table at the bottom which compares them.

Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like It) by Finison and Wiseman. (Video) Age 3 – 6. “You can hug a pug. You can hug a bug… but don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it.” Shows a friendly, smiling Doug spending time with lots of people, having fun, shaking hands, fist bumping, high fiving, but turning down hugs. “Can you hug these people… There’s only one way to find out. Ask!” Very positive book about all the ways we can connect while respecting people’s personal preference about what types of touch they like.

How to Hug a Pufferfish. By Peterson. (No video available. Pictures are super cute, and text is very engaging.) Age 3 – 6. “So you want to hug a pufferfish. Who could blame you?” Shows a super cute pufferfish, talks about all the reasons you might want to give someone a hug – but you don’t want to make a pufferfish puff! “Pufferfish might welcome a hug, under the right conditions.” Pufferfish would like to see you coming, be asked for a hug first, and prefers a slow and gentle hug, or a fin shake. “And you never know, Pufferfish might show you a different way to say I love you.” [Disclaimer: the author is a friend of mine.]

Can I Give You a Squish. By Nelson. (Video.) Age 3 – 6. Kai the mer-boy loves hugs (squishes). He hugs everyone and everything till he tries to give a pufferfish a squish – it puffs, saying it doesn’t like to be squished. Kai feels bad. His friends suggest he tries offering a fin bump, which it likes. Kai learns his friends like tail claps, tentacle shakes and other forms of touch. “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

Miles is the Boss of His Body. By Schiller and Kurtzman-Counter. (Video) Age 3 – 6. It’s Miles’ birthday. Grandpa pinches his cheek, his brother gives him noogies, his mom gives him a super tight hug, etc. Even the birthday chicken wants to tickle him. Mile yells ‘I’m tired of being touched in ways I don’t like, and I’m the boss of my body.” The family respects and validates that.

Rissy No Kissies. By Howes and Engle. (Video) Age 3 – 6. Rissy is a baby lovebird. Others try to give Rissy kissies. Each time – “‘No kisses!’ Rissy chirruped with a most emphatic squeak.” Her parents worry something is wrong with her – “we know all lovebirds love kisses.” When the chicks at school squeeze too close and she squeaks “no kissies” it hurts their feelings. Rissy worries there is something wrong with her. Her mother says “there is nothing wrong with you. Your body and your heart are yours and you choose how to share.” Rissy says to the others “some birds share their love with kissies but they’re not my favorite things.” She offers that she likes to sing songs, sit close, give / get cards, and high fives. Others respect her wishes.

We Say What’s OK Series by Bowers and Munoz. (I can’t find video read-alouds, but here is an interesting companion video) Age 4 – 6. This series is on consent. The author says there are five key concepts to teach about consent: I listen to my body, I am in charge of my body, I ask permission, I check in, and I accept no. These engaging books feature characters of diverse age, race, and ability. We Listen to Our Bodies talks about tuning into cues in your body that signal that you might be scared, sad, or angry. We Ask Permission is about asking people before we touch them and tuning into body language (of people and of animals) to know if the touch is a positive experience. We Check in with Each Other is about not assuming that just because someone wanted to do something yesterday doesn’t mean they want to do it OK, and about stopping in the middle of something (like a tickle fight) to be sure that they are still OK with it.

No Means No! by Sanders and Zamazing. (Video) Age 4 – 6. Shows people asking to touch (aunt give a kiss, parents offering to help wash her private parts, cousin wrestling, friend asking to hold hands) and girl politely turning things down, and everyone happily moving on to other options, because “if I don’t want a hug or a kiss, No Means No!” “I am strong and I have a voice that is loud and clear. So when I say ‘no’, No Means No.” This is a fine book, but it feels like a lesson-teaching book, and some kids don’t engage with those as well as they engage with more story based books.

Hands Off, Harry by Wells. (Video) Age 4 – 6. Harry the Alligator likes to act silly in ways that are physically wild, bumping into other kids, sometimes making them spill paint or glue. Despite being given time outs, he keeps bumping into others. They have him wear an inflatable donut ring so he can’t touch others and he learns to respect other’s space and use his hands to help, not hurt. I don’t love this one, because there’s a punitive aspect to how his behavior is handled. It’s gentle, but still…

My Body: What I Say Goes by Sanders and Hancock. (Video) Ages 5 – 8. Talks about kinds of touch that make them feel safe, what makes them feel unsafe. Early Warning Signs that tell you something is wrong (racing heart, etc.) Have a safety network of adults, including one that’s not in your family, that you can talk to. Private parts – those covered by bathing suit and mouths – includes the vocabulary penis, vulva, etc. If someone touches those, asks you to touch theirs or shows you pictures of private parts, say “stop” and tell a trusted adults. No secrets. Book ends with 5 body safety rules. If you’re looking for a book that explicitly teaches sexual abuse prevention, this does so.

Teach Your Dragon Body Safety by Herman. (Video) Age 5- 8. A dragon shares with his human friend that a girl at school likes to hug him and he doesn’t like it. His friend says it’s OK to say no or ask for a high five. The book then goes on to talk about touches that don’t feel right, private parts, not keeping secrets and having a safety team of people you can tell if someone is touching you in a way you don’t like.

Additional Books on Topic

My Body Belongs to Me by Starishevsky and Padron. (Video) A story of a girl whose uncle’s friend sits down next to her and “touched me in that place that no one else can see.” He tells her to keep a secret. She tells her parents, who say they are proud of her for telling them, and say she could have also told a teacher. She says it’s not her fault that it happened and moves on. I wish there had been a message from the parents that the man’s behavior was wrong and unacceptable – that doesn’t really get addressed. Personally, I would not read this book to my students or to my child because of the discomfort it might cause. But your needs and values may differ.

Hug? by Chua. (Video) A girl hugs a sick cat to make it feel better. Then a dog asks her for a hug. Then LOTS of other animals want to hug her till she’s totally overwhelmed and yells STOP! She says she doesn’t feel well, so the cat asks her if she wants a hug and it makes her feel better. Then lots of animals are shown hugging, and it says hugs are great. The book is fun and silly with great illustrations. But the book description says “There are character education connections here to compassion, tolerance and empathy, and a terrific opportunity for discussions about boundaries.” I don’t see that message come through clearly.

I said no! by King and Rama. This is really lengthy – almost a textbook for a child age 7 – 10. Good content, but too much. The read-aloud video is about 20 minutes long. It could be helpful for a parent to read, just to build a collection of ideas to teach at teachable moments spread over time, not all at once.

TitleCharactersMessageAgeEngaging
My Body Belongs… by Pro FamiliaHumans, mostly whiteSome touch is nice, some is not as nice. You can tell people ‘don’t touch me.’4 – 6Yes
Let’s Talk AboutDiverse humansConsent – ask before touching. You can say no. Tell adult if uncomfortable.5 – 8Yes, but long
Don’t Hug DougHumans, diverse age, race, ability, sizeNot everyone likes to be hugged. Ask first.3 – 6Yes!
How to Hug aSea creaturesRespect that some people only like touch under certain conditions3 – 6Yes!
Can I GiveMerpeople, sea creaturesAsk others how they like to be touched3 – 6Yes!
Miles is the…Human family, diverse skin tone, ageYou can tell people you don’t want them to touch you3 – 6Yes
Rissy No KissLovebirdsSome people don’t like kisses, and it’s OK for them to say how they like to connect3 – 6Yes
No Means NoHuman (white family, diverse classmates)If someone wants to touch you, you can say no thanks4 – 6OK
Hands OffAlligatorsDon’t bump into, poke or push others – learn personal space4 – 6Yes
My Body – What I sayHumans, white girl protagonist, diverse others5 body safety rules – early warning system, private parts, safety net5 – 8OK
Teach Your DragonDragon protagonist, humansIt’s OK to say no to hugs and other touches. If someone touches you in a way you don’t like, tell5 – 8Yes
My Body Belongs by StarishevskyHumans. Bi-racial child, white abuserWhen someone else touches your private parts, you should tell someone3 – 6Worrisome
Hug?Human girl and animalsSometimes too many friends want hugs and that’s overwhelming3 – 4Yes
I said noHumans – white boy protagonist, diverse othersTextbook on keeping private parts private7 – 10Too long

Learning More

For each book, I include an Amazon affiliate link that takes you to that book on Amazon so that you can read all the details about it and read other reviews. I do get a small referral fee if you click on those links and then purchase something on Amazon. However, I encourage you to use your local library – encourage them to have books like these in their collection! Or to purchase from local, independent booksellers. Learn more about where to find great kids’ books.

For each, I also give a link to a YouTube video of a read-aloud of the book so that you can preview the book in detail. (Note: I don’t know whether the creators of these videos had permission, or if they were violating copyright. So I tried to choose videos without ads, so the video creators don’t gain financial benefit.)

You might also be interested in these posts: Talking with Children about Touch and Consent; Books for Children about Sexuality; Talking with Children about Gender Identity (includes links to recommended children’s books on that topic) and Teaching about Tricky People, vs. Stranger Danger.

Accessing Developmental Testing

child working with blocks

Note: This post is tailored to families in Washington State, but the general process is similar elsewhere.

Monitoring

I encourage all parents and teachers to do developmental monitoring: from time to time check out a developmental checklist to be sure your child is on track. And read developmental newsletters for ideas on how to support well-rounded development. Or, you can check out the Washington Early Learning and Development Guidelines which are an amazing resource for children birth through grade 3, where each developmental level includes ways to support your child’s development, differences in development and guidelines for when/how to seek intervention services.

Screening

About 1 in 6 children has a developmental or behavioral issue, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and developmental delays. Only 30% of those concerns would be detected just through the monitoring process. Early intervention from birth to age 3 can help children learn important skills, and getting support and services for children age 3 and up can have a huge benefit for their schooling.

If you are wondering if your child might have autism or ADHD or developmental delays, start with a screening tool. The results might help to reassure you that your child is actually developing normally or they could validate that seeking further assessment and testing would be beneficial. The ASQ – Ages and Stages questionnaire is one of the best available tools for overall development, and you can complete it yourself in about 15 minutes. The ASQ-SE screens for social-emotional development, and can help to identify possible autism signs. (Learn more about using the ASQ and ASQ-SE and understanding your child’s ASQ results.)

For Washington state residents: you can complete the ASQ and ASQ-SE online and a child development specialist from Within Reach will contact you with the results within a week and discuss those results with you. Oregon offers an online ASQ and ASQ-SE here that appear to be open to anyone – you will see the results when you complete the screening.

Talk with a Professional

A helpful second step is to talk to your child’s doctor or their teacher or childcare provider about your concerns, and share the results of the screening. Here is a tip sheet for talking with a doctor about your concerns.

Your child’s doctor may offer a referral to a specialist, such as a child neurologist or a child psychologist. You could also ask for a written referral for testing, using this form.

You can also directly contact your state’s early childhood system to request a free Child Find Evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. You do not need a doctor’s referral to make this call.

Evaluation – for Children under 3

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA (specifically in Part C) guarantees your child a right to a free developmental evaluation. Some people call it “birth to three services,” “early intervention,” or “Part C services”. If your child qualifies for intervention, services can be billed to insurance, or offered on a sliding scale. You will not be denied services if you can’t pay for them.

In Washington, evaluations are provided through ESIT – Early Support for Infants and Toddlers. (Info for Outside Washington.) Each county has a lead agency that processes referrals and schedules evaluations. All the agencies are listed here. To learn which agency serves your location, you can call the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.This statewide, toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.

The evaluation process uses standardized tools and observations to evaluate a child’s development in 5 areas: physical, cognitive, social-emotional, communication, adaptive / self-care, and sensory processing skills. The evaluator uses natural situations to look at these skills as a child plays, stacks blocks, draws, etc.

If the evaluation shows your child is eligible for services (eligibility criteria here), they may develop an IFSP – Individualized Family Service Plan – and you will be referred for early intervention services, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, hearing or vision services. In most cases, services are provided in the home or in a child-care setting.

Learn more about IFSP and Early Intervention, and even more about IFSP.

Evaluations for Children age 3 – 5

In Washington, “Child Find” evaluations are offered through your school district. They are free but you must request them.

You can call your school district coordinator* and say: “I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated through the school system for preschool special education services. Can you help me or let me speak with someone who can?” Write down who you speak to, the date, and what was said; you might need this information later.

At some point, you will need to submit a written request for evaluation. Some parents start with that. A sample letter to request evaluation is available on PAVE’s website, or the state offers a referral form. (Learn more about how to make the request for an evaluation.)

From the time of request the school has 25 school days to decide whether to evaluate, then 35 school days to complete the evaluation. Make sure you keep a record of when you started the process. (Learn more about the referral and evaluation process.)

The evaluation might look like academic tests, questionnaires, informal observations of the child and parent interviews. They may measure: communication skills, hearing and vision, motor skills, social skills, academic skills, thinking and reasoning. (Learn more about evaluation.)

IDEA describes 14 disability categories. If your child meets the criteria under one of those categories, they are eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Learn more about developing an initial IEP. (Tips for preparing for your IEP meeting.)

If they don’t meet IDEA eligibility, but they have a disability that impacts a “major life activity” they can have a section 504 plan for accommodations which enable equitable access. (If they are found not eligible, learn what to do.)

Children with identified disabilities can receive free special education and related services at preschools run by the local public-school district or through Head Start or ECEAP. (Learn more about preschool placement.) Related services might include speech therapy, occupational therapy, mental health counseling or special transportation, etc.

If your child is older than 5:

Contact the public school that your child attends or that they would assigned to (if they are homeschooled or attending private school). From there, the process is much as described above.

Most specialized education is provided by special educators who “push in” with support in the general education classroom. (The IDEA requires education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the greatest extent possible with typically developing peers.) Some children do not thrive in typical classrooms, and may receive “pull out” instruction in a specialized setting.

Families that homeschool or attend private school, have the option to receive some services from the public school system, even if they are not attending full-time. Learn more about private school Equitable Services plan.

Private Evaluations

In order to access publicly funded early intervention services and special education, you will only need to complete the free evaluations described above.

It is also possible to have a formal evaluation by a child psychologist or psychiatrist, a occupational therapist or speech/language pathologist, clinic specializing in autism, ADHD, etc. This may lead to a more detailed report about your child’s diagnosis and how you can support them, or it may make you eligible for additional services that could be covered by insurance, or may make your child eligible for medications. These diagnostic evaluations may be covered by your insurance or might require paying out of pocket, and can be expensive, so be sure you check about costs and coverage.

If you’re looking for a provider for a diagnosis, seek recommendations of knowledgeable professionals in your area from:

  • Support groups (for example, Autism Speaks has a national directory of providers;
  • People who have children or other family members with the condition
  • Governmental resources (for example, the Autism Guidebook for WA)
  • Your primary care provider or other health care professionals
  • Early intervention or special education providers

More Resources

*How to Contact Your School District

For children age 3 to 5, you’ll reach out to the special ed team in your child’s school district. Here’s info for all the districts in the state. k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/specialed/resourcelibrary/SpEdDirectory.pdf

Here are contacts for district’s on Seattle’s Eastside. (I teach for the Bellevue College Parent Education Program so these are the resources I refer to.) If their websites said what agency provides evaluations for ages birth to 3, I list that after the website URL. (If the Early Intervention provider is not listed, call Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.)

To refer your child for Kindering services, call (425) 653-4300 or submit an online referral form here.  Kindering provides helpful information about their telehealth evaluations.