And Now For This Important Message About Inappropriate Touching

When I was a kid in the 80’s, it was a pretty regular thing to see a commercial on TV like the one above.  Ricky Schroder of Silver Spoons had one, Blossom had one, I’m pretty sure Punky Brewster, Webster and Different Strokes each had one, and if not provided in a commercial, it was done in a “very special episode” where the subject was brought up.  They left you with a sinking, dirty feeling in your stomach and an embarrassing uneasiness.

Ads like this were once a very common thing to see while watching Saturday morning cartoons or after-school specials. But now? Access to children seems to have become easier for predators, while the world’s attention to it seems to have tapered off.  There are no more “The More You Know” ads on TV between sitcoms and cartoons and no more child-focused TV shows with the “serious episode” every few months to tell our kids it’s okay to talk to someone about your feelings or if you have been hurt, abused or touched in a way that feels wrong or makes you feel uncomfortable.

With more families choosing live-streaming television instead of cable TV or network TV, commercials as a whole are going the way of the spiral phone cord and the Walkman, anyway.There are also new limits in schools, as far as what they can discuss and how and when they can discuss it, and often it’s done in a completely generic way that does not cover all the bases and not even half of all scenarios a child might find themselves in to even know if they’re being taken advantage of. They might not know that what someone is trying to do is wrong.

This next video is one I don’t remember seeing personally, but it’s pretty horrifying.  Watch it with a strong stomach and away from the eyes of the littles… Oh and ignore the title, whomever posted this to YouTube is obviously dealing with some issues, because not only is this the least funny thing I’ve seen, it gave me the creeps.

Where is the Danger?

Often, parents of small children have a hard time knowing how and when to have these conversations, so we put them off until the subject comes up “organically” (translate= put off as long as possible, until they ask or accidentally see or hear something they shouldn’t).  Unfortunately, if we’re not careful, those toddlers will grow into older kids who don’t have the proper skills to protect themselves if a situation arises because we were waiting for the right moment that never came.

Now, to be fair- we all want to protect our kids from the horrors of the world and keep their tender hearts innocent. That is a normal and noble desire, but in our reality, not the safest way to go.  All too often we feel; as long as there is no risk, we can put off having to deal with it.

Here’s the kicker, folks- There is always a risk.

It could be at daycare.  Nursery or other locations at church.  Playgrounds and parks.  School.  Birthday parties.  Sleep-overs.  Visits to friend’s houses.  Pool parties.  School tours, theatre, even during performances backstage. Sports games and away trips.  Field trips.  The back corner of a playground at school.  HOME. The list goes on and on and as much as we don’t want to fathom it, all of these places present a measure of risk for our children and pretending otherwise can have devastating results for them.

Now, I’m not saying we should be completely suspicious and paranoid of our friends and loved ones, but we also need to be aware of potential risks. This means we need to educate them to know how to spot danger, how to get away from it as fast as possible and why it’s so important to tell someone.

“Danger” may not look like something dangerous.  Sometimes it’s wrapped up in a fluffy bunny suit and a sweet, unassuming demeanor with promises of wonderful things- just like this unassuming, cuddly looking caterpillar who is poisonous to the touch! So, just like in nature, there are some things that may look inviting, cuddly and sweet that are really toxic.  If we don’t help our children to understand this, we may be missing the mark in protecting them.

hickory-tussock

Here’s a quick quiz for you to  see if you are ready yet;
Can you talk about body parts and bad people without giving yourself nightmares?  Does it make you squeamish to talk about penises and vaginas under adult circumstances (not even mentioning children present yet)?  Does the very notion of talking about those things with a child makes your stomach turn?

How about the reality that some bad people may want to touch those parts on your children, or make their children touch THEIR parts?  Can you handle the questions they may ask with a strong stomach, a calm voice and a clear head?  If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, that’s your first step.  You need to figure out how to make that happen.

If you are still in the process of making babies and don’t actually HAVE any yet or still have babies under a year old, this is a good time to start focusing on that and work out a plan of action.  If you already have toddlers, you need to put yourself on the fast track plan because the time is NOW.

Okay, so we get over our fear of saying the word “vagina” in front of another human.  Then what?

I asked myself this same question just a few months ago when I started researching for this entry. How and when do I talk to my children about sex, their bodies, what to do if someone gets too close or makes them feel bad, wants to touch them in places that should be off limits or even just makes them feel “strange”?  How and when do we talk about what places are “off limits?”  You may find, when really thinking about it, that you already started.  Have you told your babies they need to wear pants if they go outside? That no one should see their underwear or their bodies without clothes on? If so, you’ve already begun. Congratulations!

The information I found doing research online, attending talks and interviewing people who had been abused as children was a revelation and part of why I wanted to write this.  Parents and adults who have never lived through these things have a hard time understanding exactly what to do and they look at it all with a dangerous detachment. So, here’s what I’ve learned…

Conservative mamas, you might wanna hold onto your knickers… the reality is, the “sex talk” should never actually happen as the traditional, sit down, “time to discuss something” talk when puberty hits, as most families are familiar with.  Experts now say the process we grew up with was both unrealistic and potentially dangerous.“The talk”, which traditionally happened somewhere between ages 9 and 14, was first concealed from us at all costs until the very last moment possible and then awkwardly consisted of the process of how babies are made, respect for one’s body, teaching the importance of cleanliness and reassurance that all the “changes” taking place are completely normal and okay.

These talks about the “birds and the bees” often included a footnote about dangerous people that went something like this; “Your body is not for anyone else.  Your body is yours.  No one else touches it or sees it, and if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, tries to touch you or do anything with or to your body that you don’t like, you get out of that situation and you tell someone you trust immediately”.

Well, this is all great information, but if we wait until our children are as old as we were when we had “the talk”, there is a good chance that someone has already attempted to do harm to them.  One terrifying statistic I read stated 1 in 3 girls will be touched inappropriately by the age of 9.  This is a pretty harsh reality and tells us all that we cannot wait until our children ask, we cannot wait until they start to see “changes” in themselves and we can’t wait for the school “health” video to do the work for us.  We have to take initiative and get a jump on it before there is even a possibility of something bad happening to them, which, with the help of technology, is a great deal earlier than it was even a decade ago.  Times have changed.  Predators have changed.  They can access a child even in children’s forums that are supposedly locked and safe and they MUST have the skills to know how to protect themselves and when to get you to read something for them if it seems weird.  Like, “hey, I’m having a birthday party next week, you should come”  “oh neat!  Will I get an invitation?” “No, I’m inviting you now!  Just come!  I can have my dad pick you up, what is your address?”  – This might be totally fine, but would you want to risk it? Teach your child not to risk it, either.

Another aspect of this whole issue is regarding the “good sex talk” and why parents often hold of MUCH longer than they should.  One of the things I learned was to consider the “stranger danger” talk and the “sex talk” related but separate.  Obviously we don’t have to talk to a toddler about how, when they are much older, they may have feelings about someone that create physical urges they may not fully understand.  Please remember-  The “sex talk” that discusses how a person might feel a certain way about another person and how sex is a beautiful expression of love after marriage, is NOT the same as the “stranger danger” and “inappropriate touch” talk.

Many parents don’t want to go there at ALL because they feel if they discuss sex in any capacity, they run the risk of accidentally planting the seed of curiosity or exposing them to something that may damage them because it’s too soon.   Thing is, you WANT to plant the seed.  You want to be the one who does it.  You plant it, you get to cultivate it. Not some TV show your child accidentally saw with a sex scene or a magazine in the grocery store about “how to make him do that thing you love in bed” or some kid at school who brags about making it to “third base”.  You plan the seed- you grow the seed- you keep it safe and then allow your child to take over that growth when they are ready.

I sat in on a talk given by a local psychologist last year who shed some important light on a taboo topic for most conservative parents.  In this discussion/lecture, she brought up to us moms, most of us having toddler age children ranging from just born to 4 1/2 years old, that if we had not yet begun to talk about these things, we were already behind.She told us any kind of discussion about sex, whether it be a conversation about healthy sexual relationships or stranger danger needs to be a normal part of everyday conversation from the time children are very small.

She said, “moms, you need to accept that if you are doing it right, sex is going to be a household word and a typical conversation around the dinner table.  Grow a spine”, she said.  “Get in there, go over the hard stuff, be approachable, compassionate and make sure your kids know YOU are the one to run to when they have questions, feel afraid, feel unsure or can’t figure out what to do next.”

She really drove home the idea that if we couldn’t talk about it, they would find someone else and that person might just be a danger to them.  It could be some unknown person on the internet in a chat room or a private forum you know nothing about.  It could be a friendly stranger who was able to easily talk to them and gain their trust about deep, personal issues.  It could be a friend from school who actively engages in dangerous or promiscuous activity and seems “cool” and mysterious to your child (There was a girl in 6th grade I thought was amazing, her name was Poppy and she was gorgeous, wore sexy clothes and make up.  All the “nice” girls wished they could be her because all the cute boys loved her.  I’m pretty sure she was the last person I should have been idolizing at that stage in my life)  It could be someone who makes them feel shamed or even someone who would then take advantage of them and their innocence.  The point is, it should NEVER occur to them to need to talk to anyone else because they already know they can talk to you.

The biggest take-away from this lecture; It is never too early and they need to be prepared with every possible scenario.

Very small children can begin to learn body safety by having books about their bodies and what should be “hands off” to anyone else read to them.  There are several on the market and I will list a few at the end of this page.  Books that explain their body parts and how certain parts are “off limits” is a great way to begin with young toddlers, but beyond that, there are countless ways we can help protect our children, many in ways that SEEM unrelated, but provide valuable lessons.

I’ve listed a few of these tools, along with some things to think about when you are ready to venture into the dark waters of inappropriate touching.

Teach them The Underwear Rule.
An easy tool to teach body safety is “the underwear rule”, where a child is instructed to never allow anyone to touch them or even look at them anywhere their underwear covers.  This rule is a great way to visually provide an established barrier and a clear “no-touch zone” for them to easily understand, but it does come with a catch that needs to be addressed; if the child is of pre-school age and still uses diapers, pull-up’s or is prone to accidents, they will need to understand in THOSE cases, someone might need to help them and that may involve changing underpants and cleaning them up, and in those cases, it’s okay, but even then- if it seems creepy or strange or makes them uncomfortable, they need to tell you about it.

Allow them to be proud and confident.
Teaching them not to be ashamed of their bodies or embarrassed by them will also help protect them from predators.  Many predators use those feelings to their advantage by encouraging shame and guilt to keep a child they are abusing quiet.  By teaching a child to love themselves, respect themselves and that it is okay to talk about their bodies with you, they won’t be able to be shamed into any action they are not comfortable with. An example of this, is a girl I knew in elementary school.  She was taught her body was a temple for God, herself and her husband only. She was proud of that and had no problem telling people. One day, a boy tried to hurt her on the playground.  She fought him off and then he tried to bully her into keeping quiet, making things up with his friends about how she was weak and stupid and was “asking for it” (it was years before I really understood what had happened).  She could have caved, she could have kept quiet when the boy told her not to tell anyone because it would make HER look bad, but she knew she was worth more and told the principle.  He was expelled and she was fine.  As I look back at that situation now realizing what had probably really happened to her, I am amazed at her courage and can only assume it was due to the strong foundation and confidence she was given by her family.

Teaching a child self respect and personal space of themselves and others.
Aside from books, one major piece to the puzzle is how we help our children to respect themselves, their property and their bodies.  We should be teaching them self respect and give them the authority to have a sense of ownership without guilt.  Guilt plays a major role in most abuse situations because a child feels badly for refusing an adult they might trust.  By teaching your child that is is okay to say “no” and to honor themselves by refusing someone’s request, you will help them to have the confidence to stand up for themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. This should be practiced especially during holidays and celebrations where your child may see family or friends they don’t know very well.  Your child does not HAVE to give grandma a kiss or hug cousin Charlie when they leave after a visit.  They should never be made to feel bad for refusing to do so or forced into doing it.  They should be allowed to be in control of who touches them in what way and given the authority to say no when they don’t feel like doing it.  If it causes problems for the family, just let them know you are teaching your children the value of personal space and it’s nothing personal, they really do love their family and that you are sure when they are ready, they will give lots of hugs and kisses.  A child should also learn that sometimes people don’t like hugs and kisses and taught to be polite around others who are not family, not hover, hang or just in general be constantly too close in case it makes others uncomfortable, too.

Not all inappropriate touching feels bad and not all predators make you feel uncomfortable.
One of the most horrible aspects of molestation is that sometimes a child has no idea they’ve been victimized. It has been so stressed that if “someone makes you feel uncomfortable” they are to tell someone and that this behavior is not okay, but no one ever tells a child even if someone does NOT make you feel uncomfortable and you don’t feel strange and you maybe kind of like how it feels, it is still not okay and they are still dangerous.  Many predators begin their abuse by playing games and making it fun, calling the touching the “prize” when you win because it makes you feel nice.  Some try games like “truth or dare”, wherein the predator will dare a child to do something to them or they will lose the game.  What makes these predators successful is the fact that the child often has absolutely no idea that they behavior is wrong in the first place.

One victim I spoke with let me know he was never talked to about inappropriate touch outside the vague concept of “if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you are to tell someone”. So, I believe we need to modify how we are phrasing our explanations to include this often-used loophole with something like this; “your body belongs to you and is only for you. If anyone touches you in the places your underwear covers, that is NOT okay, even if it feels friendly or safe because you know the person, or because it’s a fun game, or they tell you it’s “cool” to do it, it’s still not okay and you need to say no, even if you think it might hurt the other person’s feelings and go tell someone you trust like a parent or teacher”.

Discourage forced sharing.
We have an issue in our culture of forcing a child to share.  I believe this is dangerous and misleading.  Forced sharing is probably one of my most hated parenting practices, just under Cry It Out because it teaches a child that their own needs and property should always be made available for anyone else, JUST because this other person asked for it or was playing in their space.  This is not how adults work, it’s not how life works, it’s not how the world works and it’s a terrible example to set for your children.

Now, I’m not saying, “don’t teach your children compassion” and I’m not saying they should NEVER share, but FORCED sharing, like the- “hey you are playing with that truck and I like it, can I have it?” does not have to be honored.  A child should be allowed to say, “well, I’m playing with it right now, you can have it when I’m done” and that should be the end of it.  If a child is actively playing with a toy or something of theirs is especially important to them and they don’t want anyone to mess with it, they should have the right and authority to say, respectfully, “hands off, please” and let that be the end of it.

We tend to think of needing to share in situations where siblings are fighting over toys or children in parks are fighting over who gets to swing and our first impulse is to avoid playground conflict by telling our kids, “now honey it’s not nice to do that, you need to share your toys and be polite” because some mother you have never met is glaring at you from across the sandbox wondering why your child is so selfish.  But listen… if we blanket-teach them that sharing is always necessary or they are a mean person and they make others feel bad when they don’t want to share, we start teaching the wrong lessons. Lessons that can be dangerous or cause our children to easily become passive victims.

“Give me your lunch, I don’t have any”, “I like your coat, give it to me”, “You have way prettier shoes than I do, let me have yours”, “Oh, you have that new toy?  Give it to me, I really want one but my parents can’t afford it”. These are all bullying, manipulative ways that children and even adults can victimize a child and through guilt, outright steal from them while making the victim feel bad for having something that belonged to them.

This absolutely translates into body safety, because if a child is taught to never say “no” when someone asks nice, what keeps them from saying no when the request is something sinister?

Here are a few examples:

“I like your shirt, take it off and give it to me please”(well, I was taught to give things to others and I should share or they will be sad)  “can I hold your penis?  I’ll let you touch mine…” (that’s a fair trade, right?  Even though I don’t really want to, they asked nicely and they’re being polite and they are an adult, so I guess I have to say yes…), “let’s trade underpants, yours are SO COOL I wish I had them!  If you take yours off, then I will take mine off, too, and you can wear mine- it’ll be a fair trade!” (I guess I should, I mean, that’s still sharing and I’m supposed to share…)

Unless we teach a child they are allowed to say NO, they simply won’t do it.  They will give in to requests that seem strange but fairly simple, because they were taught they will get in trouble if they don’t do it.  They will feel guilty and feel like they will hurt the other person’s feelings if they deny them what they are asking for then once something happens, their guilt and shame will escalate to a point where they cannot tell anyone about it, even if you have told them a thousand times they can come to you with anything.  Not only because they are ashamed of themselves, but it is very likely their abuser is preying upon that shame to keep them quiet and is using their guilt as fuel to be able to continue the abuse.

We MUST teach them it is okay to say “no” and to resist feeling obligated to give over things that are important to them- ESPECIALLY when it is their own bodies.

Remove the “that couldn’t happen to us” idea from your mind.
In order to truly protect your families, you have to stop approaching these situations from a “it could never happen to me” perspective.  It CAN and it might and if you do nothing, it’s even likely. Here are some horrifying statistics from Parents For Megan’s Law website:

  • One in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18
  • 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • One in 5 youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the Internet in the past year.
  • The average age for first abuse is 9.9 years for boys and 9.6 years for girls. 
  • Abuse typically occurs within a long-term, on-going relationship between the offender and victim, escalates over time and lasts an average of four years.
  • Many child sexual abuse victims never disclose their abuse to anyone. Less than 10% of child sexual abuse is reported to the police.
  • Children are most vulnerable between ages 8 -12.
  • 29% of all forcible rapes occurred when the victim was under 11 years old. 
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12.
  • 44% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 18.
  • Children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.
  • Nearly 30% of child sexual assault victims identified by child protective service agencies were between 4 and 7 years of age.
  • 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker, 34.2% of attackers were family members and 58.7% were acquaintances and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.
  • Nearly 50 % of all the victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are children under the age of 12. 
  • 60% of girls who had sex before the age of 15 were coerced by males averaging 6 years their senior.
  • Women who experienced sexual abuse as a child are 2 to 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted later in life. 
  • Like rape, child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes: only 1-10% are ever   disclosed. Source: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
  • Fabricated sexual abuse reports constitute only 1% to 4% of all reported cases. Of these reports 75% are reported by adults. Children fabricate sexual abuse less than 1% of the time. 
  • IT IS ESTIMATED THAT THERE ARE 60 MILLION SURVIVORS OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE IN AMERICA TODAY.

I believe by teaching a child from their earliest point of understanding to get comfortable with their bodies, how to respect themselves, how to spot predators (even the friendly ones) protect themselves, we can easily bring these numbers down but in order to do that, parents have GOT to step up, get over their anxiety, roll up their sleeves and dive into the topic will full force to educate, protect and provide the tools for their children that they will need to stay safe.

Allow them to watch babies nurse and babies being born.
Kids, even small ones, understand more than we often give them credit.  By allowing the miraculous parts of creation to be a normal part of life, they will grow with a deep and integral understanding and respect for the body and its purpose. Amazing and vital conversations about their bodies, the bodies of others can be sparked by a child witnessing these beautiful moments.

Turn yourself into the ultimate safe harbor.
Make sure they know YOU are the one to talk to about these things, ANY time they have questions or are confused or worried about something.  Do you upmost to never make them feel shamed for asking about their bodies or even other’s bodies.  Don’t laugh at their questions, don’t make patronizing faces or take condescending tones of voice, don’t tell them it’s not appropriate to ask that question or tell them they should be ashamed of themselves for thinking of the question.

Make sure they believe you when you say “you can talk to me about anything”.
This is a tricky one. The “coming to you” bit, that is… it HAS to be genuine and they have to believe you. They have to know you won’t be disappointed in them for having questions or maybe even having gotten themselves into a situation they couldn’t control. If they feel you will be angry, embarrassed or ashamed of them, they will NOT come to you. Initiate conversations and do it often, do it casually and keep it light. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know. Tell them you can look it up together or ask someone together.  Never exclude them, pass the buck or make them feel that their questions are “too much” for you to handle or “wrong”. Remember there is no wrong question!  Basically, make sure they know you won’t get “weird” or freaked out by questions they may have or situations they may want to bring to you by actually NOT getting freaked out or weird when the topic comes up.  And along that same notion…

Watch what you say between conversations.
You can’t tell them on the one hand, “please know you can always talk to me about anything and you don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed” and then with the other hand make statements in every day life that might make them feel like you don’t really mean what you say. This could be anything from a statement about someone else’s situation and how disappointing they are to you, a look or feeling of disgust as someone talks about their body or an “ugh, I can’t deal with that” when talking about your period or any bodily function.  If it comes up in conversation, a comment about poor behavior in others, a child will internalize this and know that you will be judgmental with them in that situation, too. The child will hear you. The child will know you can’t be trusted because you have made it clear you can’t handle those conversations, you DO judge people who have things happen to them and even if you say you won’t make them feel weird, they’ll already know that isn’t true because anytime something like that comes up, you get weird. Come from a place of love and acceptance at all times, starting as early as diaper changes, potty training and body discovery situations and as they work through these, sometimes incredibly confusing moments in their lives, you will see they actually will trust you with the information, their secrets and their tender egos.

Respect a child’s “no” and show them that it is okay to set their own limits of comfortability.
This is one every parent I know has issues with.  A child says “no” and they freak out, worried they are going to create a willful child who doesn’t respect authority.  But context is everything and at times, parents need to respect a child’s “no” in order to teach that child that his or her limits are respected.  Now, before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me explain this a little more clearly.  I am not talking about defiance.  I am talking about allowing a child to set limits based on their own comfortability and having those limits respected by adults.  When your child is done, allow them to be done.  Here are a few scenarios to explain my meaning on this;

Tickle fights.  You tickle your child and it’s hilarious and great fun until they say, gasping through hysterical laughter “Stop!!  No more!!”  No matter how much fun they seem to be having, respect the “no” and stop.  Allow them to catch their breath, calm down a little and if they want you to continue they will tell you so.  If not, they will be thankful you stopped when they asked.

Splashing in the pool.  When playing water games with kids, we often think it’s super fun to hear them squeal and they love to do it, so we see nothing wrong with ignoring their “stop” and “no” when it’s clear they have smiles on their faces, but often, if we don’t honor those requests, their laughter can easily turn into tears or even anger and if we’ve ignored their requests to stop, their anger is 100% warranted.

Spinning, swinging or playing any other game that feels risky but fun.  Daddy has son by the feet and he’s spinning in circles.  Son is flying through the air, laughing and having a great time and all the sudden, son is done and says “STOP!!” If dad ignores him, the situation can quickly become a moment of absolute terror and trust is broken.

Forcing them to eat foods they don’t like.  Sure, it’s a source of utter frustration and anger for many parents, but to a child learning to express their opinions, food is an important opportunity to learn about themselves and to learn that respect goes both ways.  While the subject of eating one’s dinner can be a challenging issue of compliance in many households, I suggest we start seeing it as a way to help support a child’s understanding of personal boundaries while simultaneously teaching them the concept of consequences and respect.  Not sure how food issues tie into boundaries?  Check out this scenario;

Mom- eat your dinner
Child- I don’t like it
Mom- Yes you do, everyone likes this- you need to eat it
Child- I changed my mind, I want something else now
Mom- No, you will have respect for the work I did to make it for you- eat what’s in front of you because I’m the adult
Child- Okay
*
Aggressor- Come sit on my lap and give me a hug
Child- No I don’t want to
Aggressor- Oh come on, everyone likes hugs, you hug your mom, right?
Child- I don’t really want to, where’s my mom?
Aggressor- I’m asking you to follow directions and listen to me.  I told you to do something and I’m an adult.  Do it.
Child- Okay

So, see?  It translates.  Everything translates.  If you force a child to swallow their pride and ignore their personal boundaries and comfort levels, eventually they will learn that those things don’t matter as much as compliance.  How can we get respect as parents at the dinner table while also teaching the value in personal boundaries?

They call it the “one bite” rule.  A child has to take one bite of a food they refuse to eat.  One bite and if they still hate it, conversation over- they can get up.  However- and here’s the clincher- that’s all there is, so they won’t be having their own special dinner made for them.  They are welcome to refrain from eating it, but they will have to be happy with not eating anything until next meal time.  It’s their choice, and the “offending food” will remain out for them to come back to at any point should the child change his or her mind.  Parent is respected, child is respected.  Done.
Now, sure- for some children, this is a battle of wills not of genuine preference and it’s your job to know the difference and which battle you should allow them to win.  I’m simply suggesting you allow them the right to their own opinions about foods because by showing them you respect their opinions, they are more likely to back up their own opinions when it counts.  Like, say… when someone says… “it’s okay to take your top off… all the girls do it” – “well, I don’t want to”  -“You teased about it the other day, c’mon, your’e not a tease are you?” – “yeah, you’re right, I guess I better do it.”

Okay, that’s my list for now.  I hope this helps give you a few ideas to add to whatever arsenal your’e already building for these conversations.

To sum up- It’s up to us.  Teach them body confidence, self respect, where others are not allowed to touch them, they can come to you, personal confidence to say a guilt-free “NO” when necessary, initiate and encourage open discussions where nothing is off limits and every concern will be handled with respect.

Remember- all of these are just some suggestions and a bit of insight, not a rule, nor a “do all of this or you’re a bad parent”.  These conversations will look a little different for different people and that is as it should be. You must do what is appropriate for your family, your set of values and your children at their level of development.

Know that you might fail.
Know that even with every tool in the book, a child can still be at risk and sometimes, even if we know we did everything we could, children are still victimized.  It’s important to address this harsh reality because we need to know that guilt does not help anyone to recover from abuse.

If abuse is already a reality of your household and you are looking at this from the other side now, please know you did nothing wrong.  You are not at fault.  Predators are tricky and many are sick with untreated disorders, suffering from undeniable compulsions and obsessions that were ignored for YEARS.  They know the tools we use to protect our children.  They work around those tools and use a child’s natural, loving tendencies against them.  There is only so much you can do and I’ll bet you did everything you thought you could have to prevent it.

So, please… let it go.  It’s not your fault.  Holding onto guilt will not change the past, but learning from the experience can save others, so please don’t be afraid to talk about it with people you love, people you trust and even people you don’t know to teach them what YOU learned from the experiences in your lives. Pretending it didn’t happen won’t change the past, either, and could very easily further harm an already terrible situation.

Your words could save a child’s future and I encourage you to find the strength to speak out, even anonymously, to help another parent who might be wondering what they could do more of to help their child brave these vicious waters.

Know that there is support for you, too, mom.
If you are the parent of a sexual abuse victim, your thoughts are going to be focused on the health, healing and comfort of your child.  Naturally, this is going to be your primary concern.  Getting that child back to some form of what “normal” looks like; able to sleep again, able to play again, able to eat again, able to feel comforted and confident again.  THOSE are your primary focuses and that is understandable.  However.  Please do not ignore your own needs.  If you are the parent of a sexual assault, molestation and/or abuse victim, you must, and I cannot stress this enough- YOU MUST seek your own healing.  Being the mother of a victim of this type of abuse carries a weight of guilt, anxiety, anger and even fear that lingers, presses and grips you in ways that you cannot hardly express let alone know how to handle on your own.  You need to stay strong for your child and family, so you bury those feelings.  You need to make sure YOU are a rock so your child knows they can take comfort in that strength.  But what good does being a rock do when it’s hollowed out with pain of your own?  Seek counseling.  Seek community.  Don’t sit on this.  Don’t let it weigh on you to the point where it dictates your choices, where it makes you so angry and fearful for your child’s safety that you begin to distance yourself from those you love and things you may have loved doing. There are resources to help you and you SHOULD utilize them.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you truly want your family to heal, YOU MUST utilize them.  Reach out for help and talk to someone.  Here are a few resources for you in this area:

Pandora’s Project- Support and resources for survivors of rape and sexual abuse
http://www.pandys.org/secondarysurvivors.html

Mothers of Sexually Abused Children
http://www.mosac.net/

The Mama Bear Effect
http://www.themamabeareffect.org/support-the-victim.html

I would LOVE to hear back from you on this, as it is one of the most important topics ever discussed on the page.

Have you already had these conversations with your children? Let us know how you started!  What worked and what would you have done differently if you could have?

Has your family experienced abuse already and could you offer any words of wisdom to others? Your feedback of both positive wins and lessons you learned will help every mother reading this!

Have you suffered abuse and have some ideas on how to help parents to better prepare their children?  If you want your story to be shared anonymously, please email me at thecautiousmom@gmail.com with your story, be sure to leave out any names of people or places in order to protect your privacy. (you can make up new names or just use generic terms like “school” instead of the name of the school or use the terms “victim” and “predator” to tell the story.

If you need additional information and resources, here is a list of online resources for parents:

Megan’s Law (a government page that helps identify sex offenders in your area and provides a wealth of detailed information on this subject:
http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/

Parents For Megan’s Law (a resource of information on how to talk to your children to prevent abuse)
http://www.parentsformeganslaw.org/welcome.jsp

The NSPCC; National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; A UK organization devoted to the protection of children in the UK. Their site has TONS of great information and ideas for parents including stories and videos to watch with your children.
http://www.nspcc.org.uk/

The National Children’s Alliance
http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/

Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute (They probably have the largest collection of links and detailed information from any other page I found online) http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pages/resources.html

Here are a few books to read to your children about stranger danger and broaching the subject of inappropriate touch:

“Not Everyone Is Nice: Helping Children Learn Caution with Strangers”
Frederick Alimonti

“I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private”
Kimberly King

“Do You Have a Secret?”
Jennifer Moore-Mallinos

“Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept”
Jayneen Sanders

Some Parts are NOT for Sharing
Julie K. .Federico

For those who prefer free resources- There are also tons of printables online! You can find oceans of information and hand outs that can be printed and free resources both on Google image search and on Pintrest by looking up key words such as, “inappropriate touching”, “stranger danger” and “toddler body awareness”.  Here is an example of one I found:

touch-handout

Here are a few books that help parents with the body parts and how/why they work the way they do conversations:

The Story of Me (God’s Design for Sex, Book 1)

Why Boys & Girls Are Different: For Girls Ages 4-6 and Parents
Carol Greene

Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts (for ages 3-6)
Dr, Gail Saltz

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4 comments

  1. Fantastic article, Janelle! This reminds me of my project that fell by the wayside – making my own book about bodies on Shutterfly so the kids can have their own personalized book about these things! 🙂 I am sort of waiting until the new baby is born so it can have some pictures of him in it too, but I need to figure out what I’ll say for the text. 🙂

    • I meant to add and forgot –

      We should also model privacy for our kids from an early age. For example, I don’t let my kids bathe together unless they’re the same gender, now that they’re past the baby stage. I’ve started closing the bathroom door or moving toddlers to a separate room for diaper changes (although honestly, that’s partly for convenience because for some reason EVERYONE wants to come in the bathroom when the door’s open and it drives me nuts – haha). My husband and I don’t change clothes in front of them, or shower with them, or let them watch us use the toilet – how can we stress that private parts are private but then not cover up ourselves? Obviously these rules are very lax when they’re infants or very young toddlers, but the older they get the more we stress privacy for ourselves, and eventually for them too.

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