Monday, May 5, 2014

The Topic You MUST Address With Your Children

As a newborn my son slept in a bare crib to reduce the risk of SIDS.  

When he was crawling we gated the stairs so he wouldn't fall.  

Later, as he started to pull himself up on furniture, we bolted our tall bookshelves to the wall, just in case.  

Now that he is a toddler and has learned more about kinesthetics, we worry less about maneuvering the stairs.  Instead we focus on keeping chemicals and medicine out of his reach and holding our hands while crossing the street.

Like all parents, I would do anything to protect my son.  We don't want to raise him in a glass box, but we do want to set boundaries and take precautions for his safety.

We diligently baby-proofed the house, not just out of necessity, but out of love.

If we truly love our children, though, I think we'll do more than baby-proof.

If we truly love our children, I think we absolutely must open our eyes to the reality of sexual abuse in our world and address it with our children at a young age.

Statistics show that 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys were will sexually abused by the time they are 18.

Please don't think that your family will be the exception.  Abuse shows no favoritism - it touches all races, religions, and socio-economic statuses.  And if it doesn't effect your family, it most definitely will effect some of your child's friends and classmates.  Be prepared to help.

This is not a one-time conversation and certainly not a subject to put off until a child reaches a certain age.  Since our son was a baby we've been incorporating specific parenting techniques geared towards protecting him from sexual abuse and educating him properly.

1.  Use Anatomically Correct Names for Body Parts

Begin this practice during diaper changes and baths when your child is a newborn and it will become natural.  Use the name of body parts matter-of-factly just as you would teach them matter-of-factly about their elbow or nose.  Demonstrate that there is no shame associated with these parts of the body.

2.  Allow Them to Say "No"

I know a lot of parents who teach "instant obedience".  And I know that toddler can be particularly frustrating when they say "no" to everything.  But saying "no" is a empowering, important lesson for our children to learn. 
They need to know that their body is their own and that they are in control of it.  They always have the right to say "no," even if it is just a hug from mom or dad.  One way to teach this is to tell you child to say, "I'd like some personal space please." 
We want our son to know that certain parts of the body are always off-limits to other people.  We say: "The only people who can touch there are mommy, daddy, and the doctor, and ONLY if they need to for a diaper change or for your health."

3.  Teach Alternate Greetings

Since we need to teach children that they are in control of their bodies, we have to give them freedom in this area.  One way is by teaching them alternate greetings for people.  Someone I know who had been abused once said to me, "I always got in trouble for not wanting to hug that relative, but I just wish someone had asked WHY I didn't want to hug them." 
Instead of requiring your children to hug people (especially relatives who may be pushy about it or get their feelings hurt), speak up for them and say, "Would you like to give Uncle So-and-So a hug, a high-five, or a handshake?"

4.  Teach (and Model) Informed Consent 

Just as my son has the right to say "no", he also must respect when someone else says "no" even if it seems trivial.
People were outraged when a 6 year-old boy was suspended for kissing a girl in his class.  People defended it as being "cute" and "innocent".  I'm not sure if suspension was the correct way to deal with this situation.  But I know that I want my son to recognize that someone else's body is their own and that is not cute or funny or "being a boy" to force yourself upon another person in any way.

5.  Talk About Tricky People

Most abusers are people you know, not strangers.  So while I'll caution my son about "stranger danger," we'll be talk more often about "tricky people".  Our son is never alone with anyone unless both my husband and I trust them 100%.  But even still,  we feel the need to talk plainly about tricky people. 
We'll say it like this: "Tricky people can be anyone: a teacher, a friend, a relative, a babysitter.  They are tricky because you will like them and want to trust them, but you still don't feel right about it.  A tricky person wants you to keep a secret from your parents, which is NEVER okay, but especially not if the secret makes you feel bad inside."
Also prepare your children that a tricky person might say that they will hurt someone if your child tells the secret or that no one will believe them.  Assure your children far in advance that you will absolutely believe them and that you will handle it and that they don't need to be ashamed.

6.  Have Books or Movies

Keep books and/or movies on hand that teach about body parts and/or about abuse.  Books are a great way to open a conversation with a child.  These resources can give your child the words they need to discuss abuse and give them confidence that everything will be okay.

7.  Research Your Childcare Options

Since I'm home with our son at this point, we only have had to worry about childcare at churches.  He is not sent into any church nurseries unless we've researched their childcare policies (and he usually doesn't go in the first few weeks).  Thankfully most churches these days have realized the importance of protecting against sexual abuse and have strict policies in place.  
But GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) says that 93% of all sexual offenders describe themselves as "religious."  Terrifying.   Of the people I know who have been abused, it has almost always happened in Christian families, in churches, in Christian schools, and in Christian ministries.

8.  Give Them a Script to Follow

I said earlier that books or movies might help give your child the words to say.  But you can help too.  Make this a regular conversation in your home - if you are awkward and embarrassed about the subject, they will be too.  And they won't come to you when something is wrong. 
Tell them that it's always okay to talk with you, even if someone just makes them feel uncomfortable.
It might take a lot for your child to talk to you about abuse, even if it is happening to a friend, so make it easier on them by telling them that they can come talk to you about it at anytime, or can even write you a letter about it if that's easier.

Looking for more resources?  Check out these links! 


Child Sex Abuse is a Taboo Topic For Some Parents (CNN)

Calling Out the Evangelical Culture of Sexual Abuse (in a mirror dimly)

The Super Ten, Play-It-Safe Rules for Kids and Grownups (Safely Ever After)

8 Ways to Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse (Raising Godly Children)

Tricky People Are the New Strangers (Checklist Mommy)

10 Way to Talk to Your Kids About Sexual Abuse (Everyday Feminism)

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Consent To Kids Ages 1-21 (The Good Men Project)

Talking With Kids About Sexual Abuse (Musing Momma)

Fold Your Hands {On Teaching Consent to Pre-Schoolers} (A Deeper Story)


My Body Belongs to Me: A Book About Body Safety

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept

Amazing You!  Getting Smart About Your Private Parts

I Said No: A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Your Private Parts Private

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