Even a preschooler knows the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. For those who don’t, Happy Bear is there to explain.
Happy Bear is the mascot of Child Abuse Prevention Education (C.A.P.E.) in Great Bend. This United Way of Central Kansas partner offers free programs throughout Barton and Pawnee counties and beyond, Director Judy Johnson said. On Tuesday, she and Happy Bear visited Noah’s Ark Preschool in Great Bend.
Happy Bear doesn’t actually speak, but helps Johnson get several messages across.
“I’m here to talk to you about ways that you can take care of yourself,” Johnson told her young audience. “Would you help me teach my friend (Happy Bear)?”
The children learned about good touches, bad touches, and helping touches.
Good touches include hugs, high fives and pats on the back.
“A pinch is a BAD touch. Bad touches hurt you on the outside of your body and they make you feel so sad,” Johnson said. “When you get a bad touch, this is what you do. Say, ‘No! Don’t touch me that way!’”
There are also “helping touches,” that may occur if a parent or grandparent is bathing the child or if the child has to see a doctor.
Johnson also explains that all body parts have names and children need to use the correct name if they want to be understood. That includes names for body parts that are covered by a swimsuit, which are private parts.
Next, children heard a story about what happened when Mama Bear left Happy Bear alone with Uncle Trunkle.
“Something happened and Happy Bear is very sad.” Happy Bear received a bad touch and did not know what to do. Johnson asked the children to help her teach Happy Bear what to do in that situation.
“The first thing you need to do is say, ‘NO! Don’t touch me that way!’ The next thing you need to do is run away. Don’t stand still; get away to a safe place.
“The third thing to do is tell somebody.”
Tell a parent, grandparent or a teacher, Johnson said.
“If they don’t help or don’t believe you, you need to keep telling.”
Children should also make noise and run away if they are approached by a stranger in the park, for example.
“When you go home,” Johnson told the preschoolers, “tell your mom and dad what you helped Happy Bear learn today.”
The real happy bear
Jeannie Grippin, Johnson’s costar, wears the Happy Bear costume several times a year. When she left the preschool after Tuesday’s program, Grippin made sure no one saw the bear costume she was carrying out.
“Some of them think I’m a real bear,” she said.
Children don’t all process the information in the same way, Johnson said. The Happy Bear program is for preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders. She also has an educational program for children in grades 2-6. There’s no costumed bear for that program; Johnson helps children identify kinds of abuse and neglect, physical and sexual. There is a video about a child who has been abused. “You don’t see the abuse,” Johnson said, but after the video, she talks with the students about what happened. She talks about the importance of reporting abuse. Her message: “It’s not easy, it’s never the child’s fault, and it takes courage.”
After the program
Sometimes after a program, a child will report abuse to an adult.
In 2015-2016, Johnson presented programming to 2,827 children and 279 adults. Seven children then made a report to school personnel.
In 2016-2017 she presented to 2,856 children and 214 adults. Eleven students made a report to school personnel. Johnson never knows the outcome of those reports.
“We are fully funded by United Way of Central Kansas,” Johnson said. Thanks to that funding, the educational programs are available at no charge to public and private schools and preschools in Barton and Pawnee counties and in the Central Plains school district. For more information contact Johnson by calling 792-2177.