As parents, we often wish we could keep our children in a bubble, completely protected from outside forces that could cause them harm. While a safety bubble just isn’t possible, we also know that you can take positive steps to protect your child from one of the scariest things of all – sexual abuse.
Never pressure your child to show affection
Don’t tell your child, “Go give hugs to everyone” when you leave a gathering, or say, “Grandma will be very hurt if you don’t give her a kiss. Don’t you love her?” Instead, ask your child, “Would you like to give Grandpa a hug?” and if he says “no”, explain to Grandpa that your child is just not in the mood for hugs today. By letting your child own his body and decide when and whom they will hug or kiss, you’re showing him that he can always say no to unwanted touching.
Explain to your child that it’s never okay to keep secrets from mom and dad
Most abusers start slowly, gaining a child’s trust with small, seemingly harmless confidences – perhaps a candy or activity that’s not normally allowed. An abuser may also threaten your child or make them feel the abuse is their own fault. After your child spends one-on-one time with anyone and you’ve talked about her day, be sure to end with, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me – anything you think we should talk about?” Asking this regularly helps your child stay comfortable raising any topic that may concern her at any time.
Explain the difference between tattling and reporting
Tell your child that reporting is different from tattling and that reporting is a very important, helpful thing to do. Reporting means telling an adult about someone hurting someone else, or trying to hurt someone else. Reporting will help the person being hurt and will stop the person who is doing the hurting. Reporting is always the right thing to do. Ensure your child that he will never get in trouble for reporting.
Get to know all the people in your child’s life
From teachers to coaches, from playmate’s parents to club organizers, make sure you know who they are and what other parents think of them. If you have a “funny feeling” about someone, ask your child how that person speaks, behaves and interacts during their time together. Do not hesitate to unexpectedly drop in to daycare, afterschool activities, team practices – anyplace your child is with a caregiver. You should always be allowed to observe and have access to your child.
Ask questions and make sure your child answers
Show a real interest in your child’s life – even before she can talk. Ask what songs he sang in daycare, who she sat next to kindergarten, what games were played at recess in elementary school and who he ate lunch with in middle school, for example. This helps your child realize you are the trusted person she can confide it – and BONUS – it’s fantastic for building communication skills. You’ll build a positive relationship with your child – and DOUBLE BONUS – avoid grunts, shrugs and eye rolls as your child becomes a teenager.
Don’t assume it’s “stranger danger”
93% of children who are sexually abused are victimized by someone they know and trust. An abuser is not always an adult, but can be another child. Both men and women can be abusers.
For the warning signs of sexual abuse, click here. If you would like Alzein Pediatric Associates to talk to you or your child about preventing sexual abuse, please call our office at 708-424-7600. We are always happy to help.