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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Talk to Your Child About Sexual Abuse.

A loving and aware parent


One of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to talk with our children about is sexual abuse. It's a topic that has caused disagreement and uneasiness between us. I have a very close family member who suffered sexual abuse from a trusted neighbor. It happened in an era where children were supposed to be seen and not heard. She couldn't talk about it until she was almost sixty years old. I never knew she had suffered such horrible atrocities until well into my adult life. I had an incident growing up where a babysitter did something sexually inappropriate to me, but was caught before it went too far. I am passionate about protecting my children, to the point my husband and children have voiced I was being overprotective. I feel passionate enough to include it on a literacy blog because I believe giving children knowledge, gives them power. A powerful child is much less likely to be abused than a timid one. A loving and aware parent can do more to prevent child abuse than anybody.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network indicates that as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys in the U.S. has been sexually abused during their childhood. I think this is unacceptable and much too high. As many as three fourths of those are abused by a family member. That makes it especially hard to discuss the problem with your child. Here are some of the ways we have talked with our children about sexual abuse. Never give all of your child the information at once. This can be overwhelming. Small increments work best when opportunities present themselves, or when a child asks about something they have seen or heard.

Early Years before age 5
  • Talk to your child about the proper names for their sexual organs
  • Tell your child what are appropriate touches, ie: Mommy or Daddy has to apply medicine, help a child to bathe, a father teaching a son to use the toilet, a mother breastfeeding.
  • Tell your child that it is not okay for other people to touch those areas and to tell a parent if somebody does.
  • Teach them to respect their "private" areas and to keep them covered.
  • Talk to them about difference between girls and boys and they will be less curious to show each other.
Middle Years 6-11
  • Talk to them about appropriate boundaries
  • Talk to them about appropriate behavior at family parties, neighborhood get togethers, etc.
  • Make sure they understand it is okay to say no to kisses and hugs from anybody who makes them feel uncomfortable. Be sensitive to this. Kisses and hugs are not bad in a loving, caring environment.
  • Talk to them about "good" secrets and "bad" secrets and make sure they know they can come to you if somebody asks them to keep a secret that they don't feel right about.
  • Let them know you will believe them if they have something awful to tell..
  • Make sure you express that adults sometimes do things that are not right and it is not a child's fault if an adult makes a bad choice.
Older Years 12 and up
This is where sometimes my spouse and I disagree. I believe in being blunt and to the point. He thinks that can be scary or make our children distrust those who love them the most.
  • Talk to your child about sexual abuse by calling it what it is.
  • Explain that sexual abuse is not just about the child being touched inappropriately. I also talked to my boys about the inappropriateness an adult asking a child to perform a sex act on them either with hands, mouth or any other part of the body.
  • Explain that the majority of sexual abuse happens by family members and let the child know if a grandfather, uncle, stepparent, etc. engages in inappropriate behavior, you will be supportive and believe them. Please be sensitive in bringing this up. A child should never be afraid to have a loving, healthy relationship with extended family members.
  • Talk to your child about being leery of an adult who takes a special interest in them by wanting to spend time a lot of time alone with them.
  • Talk to your children about internet uses. Explain why chat rooms are off limits. Make sure they understand that somebody who wants to meet up with them is not a friend. I will take a lot of heat for this, but insist on getting your child's passwords and check their internet uses and messages once in a while. 
  • Talk to them about appropriate and inappropriate uses of a cell phone. Make sure they understand it is never appropriate to send or receive explicit pictures via cell phone.
  • Listen to your child and look for nonverbal cues. Never blame your child.
  • Tell your child why. My husband had a family member who was a convicted sex offender who his parents wanted to invite to a holiday party. I refused to bring my children and told them why. My in laws were unhappy with my choice and I did not care. Once they were older and could understand my insistence of not going into a room alone with the abuser, I reluctantly agreed to attend a future family party and it went well. My children were kind to extended family member and felt comfortable with the limits.
How to talk to your child if you suspect abuse.
  • Ask questions without blaming them. 
  • If your child appears scared to be left alone with an individual, ask why. 
  • Make suggestions as to why a child my be withdrawn, depressed, uncomfortable around others, etc. I have asked my own children if they have ever been touched inappropriately, been shown pornographic images, and even asked if older brothers and sisters of friends are nice to them. Sometimes it makes my children uncomfortable, but in the long run, I believe they will come to me if something does happen because they know I will listen to them and put a stop to abuse.
  • Take your child to a professional if you believe abuse has occurred but the child won't reveal it.
As a child, I thought it was my fault that my babysitter asked me to take my clothes off. I was afraid I would be in trouble when my parents found out. I would have loved for them to sit me down and tell me it was not. Please make sure you sit down with your children. They need to hear about sexual abuse from a trusted source. I am glad my parents stopped the abuse before it went further.

As one of my readers pointed out, we really have to be careful about how we discuss sexual abuse with our children. I want my children to have healthy and loving relationships with their extended family members as well as their parents. If we give them too much information, too early, they will learn to distrust everybody.

I am not a mental health professional. I am a parent who has had to discuss hard topics with my children. I would encourage all parents to become educated from professionals on more they can do to protect their children from abuse. Here are some great resources I found.

Great resources on the web.
http://nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf
http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/publications/pub1154text.asp
http://www.pandys.org/articles/protectyourchild.htmlhttp://www.stopitnow.org/

6 comments:

My Baby Sleep Guide said...

Hey, visiting you through the bvb Alexa hop. What a great post! I have thought a lot about this with the world getting scarier by the day! I am going to bookmark this page for when my kids get a bit older so I can reference it again then. Thanks!

Here's my blog. Please leave a comment when you visit letting me know you were there My Baby Sleep Guide

If you leave me an alexa review, I would be happy to leave one for you. Just leave a comment on my site letting me know.

Thanks!
Rachel

Amy Neftzger said...

Found your blog through the blog hop and started following - looking forward to reading your posts!

Amy
http://neftzger.blogspot.com/

Margot Finke said...

Trudy, it is understandable that you feel the way you do. And I agree with you about the need to be open and honest with children about sex and sexual abuse. But too much information can make a child nervous and unrusting of everyone.

A therapist I listened to on the radio said: tell a child that no one should touch you in a place that is covered by your bathing suit. And if a chid feels uncomfortable about something or someone, to come tell you immediately. Tell them that some secrets are fun - like gifts or surprises for Daddy. But secrets that make them feel guilty or uncomfortable are BAD, and need to be told to Mom or Dad. Impress upon them that these rules apply to everyone - relatives, neighbors and friends. The other information they need can come over time, in small increments, when you think they are needed. That way, children keep their confidance and general trust intact, while being well inforrmed about pssible predators.

Books - Always a Great Gift
http://www.margotfinke.com

Trudy Zufelt said...

As Margot indicated, there is a fine line between talking about sexual abuse and scaring your child. My husband thinks that being too blunt can be harmful if it interferes with healthy, family relationships. We have had to learn to work together to present the facts in a way that make our childrent feel safe.

We never gave all of the information at once to our children. However, when situations call for it, like the current headlines out of Penn State, it presents an opportunity to bring up a sensitive topic.

Beck Valley Books said...

Thankyou for popping over to our weekly book hop this week, now following you via gfc, hoping you can follow back at http://www.beckvalleybooks.blogspot.com hope to see you again next week x

momto8 said...

thanks for this information..a subject no one ways to talk about....
I am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can!

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