Those who sexually abuse children exploit children’s innocence and lack of knowledge about their bodies, personal boundaries and sex. In fact, those who abuse look for children who are unarmed with this awareness. You give children a foundation for life when you teach them to value their bodies and that they have choice about how others treat them. Children are less easily manipulated when they have this foundation, and they are more likely to tell you if abuse or grooming should occur. There is far less damage that can be done to a child who has been given a loving foundation of self-protection and self-awareness.
Tips for Courage
- You may feel nervous or unsure about talking with your children. And yet, remember and feel who you are to them. You are their mother, their father, their grandparent, their teacher, etc. For a moment, consider the faith, trust and hope your child puts in you - and claim it inside yourself. This is the foundation of your conversation.
- Consider how you want the child to experience the conversation. Do you want them to feel confidant? Affirmed? Cared for? A rapport of trust and agreement? This intention will provide the spirit of the conversation – and the spirit of your conversation will be a large part of what your child remembers. The child will remember most how he or she felt in the conversation.
- Remember that you don’t have to cover everything at once. In fact, it’s better that sexual abuse and body safety be an ongoing dialogue.
- For older children, use TV shows, news reports, and current events as opportunities for discussion. For younger children, be creative about bath time, dressing and even play to give positive messages about bodies and boundaries.
Tips for Talking and Interacting
- Use proper names for body parts, like penis, vagina and breasts. Giving cute names for body parts can send a message to the child that your are uncomfortable talking about them. This can create anxiety in you both. Using proper names builds confidence.
- Tell children that every part of their body is good, but some parts are private. Explain that the penis, vagina and breasts are private, and that no one should touch their private parts without permission.
- Some parents choose to ask their child for permission to bathe their private parts as a way to teach the child that he has some control. "Is it ok if I wash your bottom?" If the child says no, ask the child to do it himself. As another example, inform your child’s doctor that you are educating your child about sexual boundaries and request that he/she ask the child if it is ok to examine. Again, if the child says no, see if you can give the child more self determination in how the exam proceeds. These are just examples. Be creative about giving the child self determination around their private body parts.
- Teach children healthy touching: a handshake, pat on the back, high five, a comfortable hug such as a side hug.
- Tell children that they should not touch others’ private parts.
- Depending on your child’s developmental level, consider telling her what sexual abuse is. "No one should touch your private parts without your permission. No one should ever make you feel uncomfortable in your body. No one should show you naked pictures, or pictures that make you feel icky. No one should ask you personal questions on the Internet. These things might be sexual abuse and I want you to tell me if anything like this happens. You are a child, so you can never be in trouble if something like this happens to you. Always tell me and I will protect/help you."
- Let the child know that this includes even relatives, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches etc. "Everyone should respect your body and if anyone makes you uncomfortable or hurts you, it is important to tell me. You’ll never be in trouble. Even if the person threatens you, you should still tell me. You’ll never be in trouble."
- Tell children that sexual activity between and adult and a child is against the law or "against the rules."
- Tell them that other children should not act in a sexual way with them.
- Don’t force your child to hug or kiss anyone when they are uncomfortable with it. While this may seem awkward with relatives and other important people, you can explain that you are teaching your child her right to her body. Offer other forms of safe touch like a handshake or a high five.
- Tell young children to yell "stop" and to tell an adult if someone hurts or touches them in an uncomfortable way. Create an example or two and ask them to practice yelling "stop!" in front of you. Praise their performance. It’s most likely that a child will actually do this in a situation of abuse if he or she has practiced it.
- Choose a "safe adult" in the environments that your child frequents, and tell the child who that person is. Tell the child that he or she can go to this adult with concerns when you are not available. Consider asking for the child’s input about who this adult could be.
- Tell them that no one should ever give gifts, candy, games, money, etc. to them as a secret from others. That in fact, no one should ever ask them to keep a secret from their parents/caregivers. Explain that secrets can be dangerous and they should always tell you if someone has asked them to keep a secret. You can teach the difference between a secret and a surprise. "A surprise is something that everyone will know soon – like a special birthday party. A secret is something that we’re asked to never tell and makes us have a guilty or scary feeling. We should never keep those kind of secrets."
- Never use shaming as a form of discipline, or to express anger with your child. Shame is a platform for abuse. Many parents also choose not to use corporal punishment as discipline because corporal punishment is often felt as shaming and ‘out of control’ to the child. There are many other options for discipline that don’t involve crossing a child’s physical boundaries.