Article at a Glance
- Reduce your children’s risk by carefully evaluating and limiting (when possible) any time spent in isolated, one-on-one situations with other children, youth, and adults.
- Educating your children about sexual abuse doesn’t mean they won’t ever become a victim, but it does offer an important line of defense.
- Children who have been prepared will know how to respond to any threats and will feel more comfortable coming to talk to you.
Learning about child predators is enough to make anybody feel paranoid and helpless. But the answer isn’t to close our eyes and hope it never happens to our children. Instead parents need to learn how to be observant and how to prepare and educate their children about sexual abuse. We hope the following tips leave you feeling empowered to take action when you spot warning signs and confident about talking to your children about the dangers.
How to minimize your child’s risk
You can greatly reduce your children’s risk by carefully evaluating and limiting (when possible) any time spent in isolated, one-on-one situations with other children, youth, and adults. Most cases of child molestation do not involve a stranger, but somebody the family knows and trust.
Obviously it is not feasible or even healthy to isolate your children, but there are some things you can do to protect them when interacting with others.
- Child molesters will be looking for an opportunity to spend time alone with their victim. Be wary of anybody who wants to spend a lot of time alone with your child.
- If your child goes on an outing with another adult or youth, make sure it is in a public place where they are easily observed by you or others.
- When your child is spending one-on-one time with others, make it a practice to occasionally drop by unexpectedly.
- Be on the alert if an adult or youth is unable to be specific about how they spent time with your child or if your child seems unwilling to tell you what they did.
- Talk to your child after activities. Get a sense of their mood or if they are uncomfortable or acting peculiarly.
- Watch for adults who are pushing boundaries. For example teachers or coaches who are causal in following policies about being alone with a child, relatives or friends who lavish more gifts and attention on one child than the others, or somebody who seems to be overly touchy or affectionate with children.
If your child is involved in childcare, camps, sports, clubs, classes, and other activities, make sure there are always multiple adults supervising. You and others should be allowed to drop by and observe at any time. Make sure all adults and youth have been thoroughly screened.
Don’t forget that your vigilance could help other children as well. If you see anybody pushing boundaries or trying to separate a child from others, don’t be afraid to intervene.
How to educate your child about sexual abuse
Educating your children about sexual abuse doesn’t mean they won’t ever become a victim, but it does offer an important line of defense. Some parents avoid discussing sexual abuse with their children because they feel it may be scary or uncomfortable. But when done appropriately it can help children feel safer, more in control, and more empowered. Children who have been prepared will know how to respond to any threats and will feel more comfortable coming to talk to you.
Children between the ages of 8 to 12 are most likely to be victims of sexual abuse, but younger children can be targets too. So it is a good idea to start talking to your children as they are able to understand concepts.
Develop an open relationship with your children
- No topic is off-limits: Your children should feel comfortable talking to you about their bodies or things that scare or confuse them. If somebody has done something that makes them feel uncomfortable (even if it is somebody they love or another child), they should know that they can come tell you or another trusted adult right away.
- You are there to help: Tell your children that if they are ever unsure about a situation they can come talk to you. Together you can figure out whether or not what happened was inappropriate. They don’t need to remain scared or confused. If your child does come to you with a concern, stay calm. Sometimes children disclose a little at a time or pretend it happened to somebody else to gauge your reaction. Staying calm lets your child know that it is safe to divulge more.
- The difference between secrets and surprises: Tell your children that if anybody has asked them to keep a secret, that they need to come tell you. Teach them the difference between a surprise (something that is fun and intended to be found out, like a present) and a secret (something that is supposed to be kept hidden or intended to keep somebody out of trouble).
Teach your children that their body is their own
- How to say no: Children should know that nobody has the right to touch their private parts or to touch them in a way they don’t like, even if it is a friend or family member. Teach them how to say “no” and to get away to a safe place where they can tell somebody what happened. Tell them to keep telling people until somebody listens.
- Learning about their bodies: Teaching your children the correct names for their private parts will make it easier for them to explain anything that might be happening. It will also help them feel comfortable talking to you about these kinds of topics.
- Safe and not safe touches: Teach your children the difference between safe touches and not safe touches. Safe touches are things like a diaper change or a doctor’s exam. Not safe touches are when people try to touch your private parts in ways that make your feel sad, confused, or uncomfortable.
Help your children feel safe
- It is not the child’s fault: Children often don’t disclose because they feel guilty or ashamed, they are afraid of getting into trouble, or the abuser has threatened them. If somebody does something that makes them feel uncomfortable, children need to know that they are not at fault and that you will listen to them and protect them.
- Most adults are safe: Let your children know that you are teaching them about how to stay safe, but that they don’t need to be scared. Most adults don’t touch children in bad ways and if anything were to ever happen they can come to you right away.
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