THE BLOG
07/07/2013 18:44 BST | Updated 06/09/2013 06:12 BST

A Small Conversation Can Make a Big Difference

When you're a parent there's no shortage of hard conversations you have with your children. And then there are the really difficult ones we should have but don't.

Sex probably tops the list of those discussions that never happen and for quite understandable reasons.

The image of mum or dad, slightly flushed, stumbling over the right words to use is one many of us can relate to.

And if it's hard enough to explain to a wide-eyed child of primary school age how the population keeps growing imagine how tough it becomes when you have to broach the subject of sexual abuse.

After the endless stories about the offences committed by Jimmy Savile the NSPCC spoke to groups of parents to see how the publicity had affected them. Perhaps not surprisingly 63% said it had made them think more about the problem of sexual abuse.

Four out of five parents of five-17-year-olds who agreed to take part in a YouGov poll also told us they think it is their responsibility to talk to their children about the risk. Yet half of all parents surveyed have never done this. And those that did tended to focus on 'stranger danger.'

It quickly became apparent that although they wanted to explain where the overwhelming risk lies - nine out of ten cases of child sexual abuse are committed by relatives, neighbours or other acquaintances - they struggled to find the right approach and words. So we set about thinking how we could help and consulted other professionals working in the field.

Some years ago the Council of Europe came up with simple messages about what children should or should not accept when being touched. But these had not filtered down effectively so, using this as a template, we developed our Underwear Rule campaign. You'll be hearing about this on your local radio station and reading about it in newspapers and online from today.

The aim of the six week campaign is to help parents have an easy conversation with their child about staying safe from sexual abuse. The leaflets and a video we have produced should make this fairly straightforward. (www.nspcc.org.uk/underwear)

When we went back to parents to test the material there was a positive response. One told us it made her really think about how to broach the subject with her five-year-old son: "Deciding how to talk to him about sexual abuse was proving difficult. This campaign has now given us the platform to tackle it in the right way as he has to know there are people who might try to make him do things he's uncomfortable about."

The idea is to have a relaxed chat with your son or daughter- you don't have to mention the term 'sexual abuse' - when you can explain that your child's body is theirs, they have the right to say no if they feel uncomfortable about something and should always talk to a trusted adult if they are worried.

The messages have been encapsulated when we talk PANTS:

Privates are private

Always remember your body belongs to you

No means no

Talk about secrets that upset you

Speak up, someone can help.

Evidence suggests that safe messages are most effective when given to a child at an early age, which is why we are focusing on those aged five to eleven. But this is just a guide and by no means a set rule. Parents know their children best and should decide when the time is right.

The NSPCC's aim is to help them to help their children without introducing the fear factor. Ideally we would hope to reach the situation where having a 'Pants' conversation is as natural as reminding your children about the Green Cross Code or the dangers of railway lines. It really isn't as difficult as it might once have appeared.

Once you've given it a go I'm sure you'll find it's a small conversation but one that can make a big difference.