The Underwear Rule

Teach your child the Underwear Rule and help protect them from abuse

The Underwear Rule is a simple way that parents can help keep children safe from abuse – without using scary words or mentioning sex.

alk PANTS and you’ve got the Underwear Rule covered

PANTS is an easy way for you to explain to your child the key elements of the Underwear Rule:

Privates are private

Picture of pants with letter PBe clear with your child that the parts of their body covered by underwear are private.
Explain to your child that no one should ask to see or touch their private parts or ask them to look at or touch anyone else’s.
Sometimes doctors, nurses or family members might have to. Explain that this is OK, but that those people should always explain why, and ask your child if it’s OK first.

Always remember your body belongs to you

Picture of pants with letter ALet your child know their body belongs to them, and no one else.
No one has the right to make them do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. And if anyone tries, tell your child they have the right to say no.
Remind your child that they can always talk to you about anything which worries or upsets them.

No means no

Picture of pants with letter NMake sure your child understands that they have the right to say “no” to unwanted touch – even to a family member or someone they know or love.
This shows that they’re in control of their body and their feelings should be respected.
If a child feels confident to say no to their own family, they are more likely to say no to others.

Talk about secrets that upset you

Picture of pants with letter TExplain the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets.
Phrases like “it’s our little secret” are an abuser’s way of making a child feel worried, or scared to tell someone what is happening to them.

  • Good secrets can be things like surprise parties or presents for other people.
  • Bad secrets make you feel sad, worried or frightened.

Your child needs to feel able to speak up about secrets that worry them and confident that saying something won’t get them into trouble.
Telling a secret will never hurt or worry anybody in your family or someone you know and love.

Speak up, someone can help

Picture of pants with letter STell your child that if they ever feel sad, anxious or frightened they should talk to an adult they trust.
This doesn’t have to be a family member. It can also be a teacher or a friend’s parent – or even ChildLine.
Remind them that whatever the problem, it’s not their fault and they will never get into trouble for speaking up.

Talking tips: how to talk about the Underwear Rule

How and when to start conversations with your child about keeping themselves safe

Small, open and honest conversations are the best way to introduce the Underwear Rule to your child and talk about keeping safe.Inevitably your child will have questions, so listen carefully and attentively and be straightforward in your answers.
You know your child best of all, so adapt the conversation and talk in a way that feels right for you both.

Add simple conversations to your daily routine

A good tip is not to treat it like a lecture. It’s much better to find easy ways to have comfortable chats, little and often.
Adding simple conversations into your day or routine about staying safe will help prevent your child from feeling like it’s a big deal, unusual or weird.
In the car
Car journeys are a great time to talk to your child. They’re in a comfortable setting, with limited distractions.

Out for a walk
Strolling along a familiar route will help your child feel more at ease as you chat together.
To and from school
On your way to school, you can ask about who they would tell at school if something was upsetting them.
If your child has had classes about relationships or personal safety at school , for example, ask what they learned on the way home.
It’s a good chance to measure your child’s understanding and give you a starting point for more detailed conversations about the Underwear Rule and their safety.
The bedtime routine
When you’re getting your child ready for bed – or helping them tie their shoelaces – you could talk about times when a trusted adult might need to touch them.
Going swimming
You can easily adapt the Underwear Rule to bathing costumes and talk about the idea of private parts being private, so that’s why they are covered.
Listening to radio or watching TV
Your child may have heard a disturbing story on the news or a favourite soap might be handling a sensitive storyline.
Though we might sometimes wish our children hadn’t heard something, it’s best to address the point head on rather than dismiss it or pretend it hasn’t happened.
Reframe the subject in words your child would find less frightening.
Also reassure them that if anyone or anything worries or upsets them, they can always talk to a trusted adult.

Being open and honest will help your child stay safe

If you speak honestly and in a way that makes the subject feel less shocking, your child will be more confident and comfortable in talking to you about difficult subjects.
In their own language
Use words and phrases your child will understand – don’t be afraid to use the correct name for body parts.
Give straight answers to tricky questions
Don’t shy away from awkward questions – answer them as best you can, in a way that’s right for your child.
Speak openly and honestly
The more open and relaxed you are, the more your child will feel able to talk about anything that’s worrying them.
Ask your child what they think
Conversations about right and wrong aren’t easy.
Even when we talk to children about not letting people touch their private parts, we have to make exceptions such as visits to the doctor.
A great way to help children understand the grey areas is to encourage them to express their opinions and develop their own judgment.
Actively listen
Lean in, nod, smile and ask questions that show you’re interested.
Showing your child you care about what they think and how they feel means they’ll be more likely to come to you if something’s really troubling them.
Read our active listening guide for parents for more tips.
Don’t force the issue
If your child isn’t interested in talking, don’t force the issue. The last thing you want is for your child to feel it’s a big deal, so wait for another opportunity at a different time.
Use books and stories
Reading a story can help you talk about difficult subjects in a way that is suitable for your child’s age and can help teach them to stay safe in terms they understand.