Parents are sometimes concerned that they will frighten their children when talking about sexual abuse
. However, talking about sexual abuse is as important as talking about any other rule of health or safety. We teach children to be careful of cars. We provide safety rules in case they lose sight of us in the mall. But we may not warn them about anyone
who says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable, whether that person is a stranger or a family member. The person may be grooming
the child for later abuse. Children need to know what signs to be alert for
What do parents need to tell their children?:
- That their bodies belong to them. No one has a right to touch them without permission.
- Children need to know it's okay to say "no" to an adult, even when it appears to be an accident or if is a family member or trusted adult.
- Children need to know the correct names for body parts. They need to know what their private parts are (breasts, buttock, vagina, penis, anus).
- They need to be taught about good touches and bad touches. Good touches feel good, like hugs and comforting. Bad touches feel bad, like punching and hitting. And some touches are confusing, making children feel "funny," uncomfortable, scared, or embarrassed.
- Discuss with the child the reaction they may have if someone touches their private parts or makes a request that seems "funny" or "odd" or accidentally-on-purpose touches them in a way that is confusing.
- Let your children know that they can trust their feelings about touch. Most children, even young ones, can tell when someone's touch, request, or behavior, makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Let your children know to talk to a trusted adult if they are not sure whether something is okay.
- Teach your children the "No, Go, and Tell" steps when someone touches them inappropriately or when they feel uncomfortable.
- Teach your children to tell a trusted adult immediately.
- Play "what if" games with your child to make sure they understand. For example, "What if someone put his hand on your bottom?" "What if someone wanted to take your clothes off without good reason?" "What if someone followed you home from school?"
- Practice yelling a response like, "No, I don't like that."
- Make sure your children know who the trusted adults are that they are safe to tell.
Children have to know who to tell.
- Children have to know how to tell. Make sure they have the language and confidence to tell a safe person.
- Teach your children never to keep a secret that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Teach children that if someone bribes them, threatens them, blackmails them, or forces them to promise they won't tell - they need to tell. Let them know that you will protect them and keep them safe.
Children also need to know that when they go to a trusted adult, they will be listened to and believed. One of the greatest fears of a child and a barrier to disclosure is fear that they won't be believed. They think they may get in trouble. If they have been abused, they feel ashamed of what happened to them and are afraid their parents will be angry. Reassure your child that he or she did nothing wrong. Sexual abuse of a child is ALWAYS the responsibility of the adult abuser and NEVER the responsibility of the child.
It is important to respect a child's independence. Sometimes children don't want to hug an adult, and their parents force them to. A child should never be forced to give a hug to anyone, including a parent or grandparent.
Children need to be taught that telling about sexual abuse is not "tattling" on another person. They need to know the difference between telling and tattling. Telling is about coming to an adult for help about a problem. Tattling is about getting attention or getting someone else in trouble. Telling about sexual abuse is NEVER tattling. Children need to know that this includes older children and teenagers, including babysitters, siblings, and other family members. They need to understand that sexual abuse is not just about adults and children.
Make sure that your children know about secrets, that bad secrets make them feel sad, unhappy, and scared, and they should not keep secrets that make them feel this way. The only good secrets are surprises, like a birthday party or special event. Encourage your child to come and tell you about any secret that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Be honest in answering children's questions. Don't give them vague information. Be specific and detailed when giving information to help them stay safe. Be sure to ask your child, "Do you understand?" or "Did I answer your question?" and listen carefully to the response.