The winter holidays are some of the most anticipated days of the year for kids and adults alike. There can be a certain kind of magic about this time of year… and chaos, too. Visitors abound, schedules are hectic, parents might be overwhelmed, and in the wrong situation, abusers take advantage. In fact, rates of child sexual abuse often increase around the holidays.
Don’t let this add to your stress! The holidays are what YOU make of them, and you can make them safe and joyful for the kids in your life. Around this time of year, kids are often left with babysitters, there may be guests staying in the home, and parents are often distracted planning the perfect surprise gift. All of these factors can leave kids at an increased risk.
However, it’s not that difficult to create an environment unfriendly to abuse. Here are some expert tips gathered by Prevent 360° partners, Darkness to Light and the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, for protecting children during the holidays. There are four areas of abuse to look out for.
1. Preventing Sexual Abuse
- Talk to your child. Discuss boundaries with your child. Teach them that their body is their own and no one has a right to touch their body or take pictures of them without permission. Let them know it’s okay to say “no” to unwanted hugs, kisses, or other affection, even to adults and family members. Tell them to talk to you or another Safe Adult if anyone crosses their personal boundaries. The key is to communicate regularly about abuse and safety. Learn more about how to talk to them using MBF’s 5 Safety Rules and how kids can use them to stay safe.
- Limit alone time. 80% of sexual abuse occurs in one-on-one situations between an adult and a child. If you limit the opportunity, you can better protect children. With family and friends around, it’s helpful to have organized or supervised activities to limit time alone. If you do need to leave your child alone with someone, such as a babysitter, let the person with them know you may pop in to check on them. Keeping those times “observable and interruptible” is the safer way to manage alone time. This goes for alone time with other youth also, as 30% of all child sexual abuse is perpetrated by more powerful youth.
- Be alert. Adults often see indicators of abuse but either don’t realize what’s happening, or disregard the signs because the possible perpetrator is someone they’re comfortable with. Unfortunately, 90% of sexual abuse occurs by someone the family knows and trusts. No one is exempt, not even the closest, most beloved family member.
For more information and additional resources regarding sexual abuse, visit:
MBF Resources: Child Sexual Abuse
Darkness to Light Tips for Talking about Body Safety Guide
Sexual abuse often occurs because of unsafe situations; the risk for physical abuse and neglect may increase due to extra stress on adults. Read on to learn more.
2. Preventing Physical Abuse
Increased stress, time commitments, and financial demands impact everyone during the holidays. However, for some families, this may lead to an increased risk of physical abuse. Here are some ideas to help you keep your cool during this stress-filled season, and how to help others who may be experiencing stress or abuse:
- Take a breather. When you feel yourself on the verge of losing it with your child, take a break or a time-out. Send your child to their room or out to play, and you take some time to de-stress and calm down.
- Reach out. Call a friend and ask for support. We are often reluctant to ask others for help, but in a stress-filled, escalating situation, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It actually shows how much you love your child. If you need support beyond friends, reach out to a mental health counselor or crisis support line.
- Be a support. Watch for signs of increased stress or possible abuse in those around you, including short tempers, children that seem jumpy or afraid, or physical signs of abuse. If you see the signs, reach out and tell the adult that you understand, you want to help, and ask how you can help lighten their load.
- Report if needed. If you suspect a child has been harmed, it is important to report it to the proper authorities. It may be difficult, especially if the offending adult is someone close to you. However, if you don’t act, the child may suffer continued abuse or worse. Reporting is a way to get a family the help they need. Remember, you don’t have to prove abuse to make a report. Always err on the side of caution and report any suspicions of abuse. To find your state’s child welfare agency and contact information, visit www.childwelfare.gov/organizations.
3. Preventing Neglect
It’s very easy for adults to put too much responsibility on kids with during this busy time of year, or to leave kids alone when they’re not quite ready. Here are some reminders:
- Keep things age appropriate. It’s important to make sure chores and tasks are age appropriate and that children aren’t neglected because adults are tired, over-stressed, or have too much to do.
- Ask for help. Reach out to neighbors for help and share responsibilities with friends. Ask for help if you need it to make sure you’re not neglecting your kids during the holiday busyness and stress.
- Focus on Quality over Quantity. With the rush of the season activities, it’s often easy to miss opportunities for quality time with family. Slow down and look for ways to spend quality time with your kids. This will build a protective bond between you, which is great for their development and for your peace of mind as well.
For more information and additional resources regarding physical abuse, neglect, and holiday stress, visit:
MBF Resources: Child Abuse and Neglect
MBF Resources: Child Development
American Psychological Association: Tips for parents on managing holiday stress
Mayo Clinic: Stress, Depression, and the Holidays: Tips for Coping
4. Remember, Bullying and Online Dangers Don’t Take a Holiday
The holiday season is a time for family and friends to celebrate, be thankful, and take a break from their regular schedules – but bullying and online dangers (unfortunately) do not take a holiday or vacation. It’s important to remember that no child is immune to bullying or exploitation, whether it’s online or off. If you notice a change in behavior, like a child not enjoying cheerful family gatherings, they may be experiencing the effects of bullying or exploitation.
It is important to keep an open line of communication with children and teens to help keep them safe. If your child confides in you that they are experiencing any type of bullying or exploitation, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- If they are being bullied, remind your child to never engage with the bully. Encourage them (and their friends) not to retaliate in defense
- If the incident occurs online, block and report the person on the social media site
- Save, copy, and/or print out any evidence of cyberbullying
- Ensure children are educated about digital safety, including things like not giving out personal information online, not talking to “friends” online they don’t know in real life, and not sending sexual images via their phone or internet. Remind them that things posted on the internet are not easily removed.
- Know what apps your kids are using and what their passwords are to monitor their online activities
- Encourage them to continue to confide in you or another safe adult if they experience bullying, cyberbullying, or encounter anything unsafe online
For more information and additional resources regarding bullying and online dangers, visit:
MBF Resources: Cyberbullying and Digital Safety
Darkness to Light Blog: Digital Safety Tips
A Note About Stranger Danger
We know most abuse and dangers come from people we know. However, strangers can still be a danger to children, especially online. Keep these guidelines in mind to minimize risk:
- Ensure that your message to children isn’t just, “strangers can be dangerous or harmful to children.” Instead, make sure they understand that anyone, even family and friends, can be harmful. Teach them what red flags look like, such as grooming behaviors and boundary crossing. Tell them they can confide in you or another safe adult if they notice anything that feels uncomfortable or unsafe.
- If kids are outside playing, ensure they are supervised by a safe adult or playing in the back yard rather than the front
- When you are out shopping or at events, make sure children stay close to you at all times. If they need to go to the bathroom, make sure a safe adult accompanies them.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Darkness to Light Blog: Beyond Stranger Danger
To learn more about the partnership between Darkness to Light and the Monique Burr Foundation for Children and Prevent 360°, visit www.Prevent360.org.
The holidays are about peace, love, and joy and we want everyone to experience all three this season. We also want to ensure all children are safe. Thank you for helping us protect children! From our teams at Darkness to Light and the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, we wish you and yours a wonderful and safe holiday season!
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