Following a sincere, tender conversation with a mom (I’ll call her Emily), I write this post.
Recently Emily and a group of young moms, while talking about current events and the needs of their own children, generated this question; How do I talk with my child about sexual abuse prevention?
Emily forwarded their question to me.
Again, I’ve said this before, but I know it’s important to restate. I’m not a professional in regard to this subject matter. I am, however, a sexual abuse survivor.
And I am passionate about helping adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse find their voice and their healing in the person of Jesus Christ.
Part of that process includes talking about prevention with our very own kids. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but here’s seven ways to begin a safer legacy for you and your children.
1. Be honest.
Ask yourself what fears rest within you. What is it about talking to your children about sexual abuse that stirs up anxiety or dread? Address these in prayer with the Lord.
Your personal fears may inhibit your sensitivity to your child’s needs and jumble the message of safety that you want to communicate, as well.
Strength doesn’t always have to be brawny and loud. In this case, though, strength is rarely silent.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1.17).
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23.4).
2. Call it what it is.
When you teach your young children the names of the body parts, call them what they are: penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, buttocks, breasts, nipples.
For many of you, you flinched as you read through the list. You may have even skimmed through the list. Realize that part of the embarrassment is because those body parts ARE private.
Calling them a wee-wee or hiney or some other nickname, doesn’t make them any less embarrassing. A potential molester or pedophile may be able to use your “cute” sayings as part of a game.
Should your child ever need to communicate sexual abuse, it eliminates a communication barrier between your child and authority figures who will need to know the exact facts of what happened.
3. Let your yes be “yes,” and your no be “no.”
Starting now–no matter the age of your children–teach them to speak up about their likes and dislikes, their yeses and nos, and their boundaries.
For example, while tickling or horse-playing, if your child–or a child under your influence–says, “stop,” or “I don’t like that,” or “no,” THEN STOP. Don’t continue the touch. Teach them through your words, your behavior, and your respect of their boundaries that no means, “no.”
Likewise, teach them to respect the voice of other adults and children. When someone says, “stop” or “no,” they need to listen and stop.
4. Good, bad, and “yucky” touch
Be specific. Using a doll or stuffed animal, demonstrate the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to touch.
It’s important to clarify it’s okay, good, and right to refuse an adult or teenager who asks your child to touch or to show their privates.
No matter what, stress that your child is NEVER responsible for the inappropriate touching.
4. Silence no question.
As soon as your child speaks, permit questions. Resist the temptation to silence your chatterbox with statements like, “Stop asking so many questions!” or “Why do you have so many questions?” or “Go ask so-and-so.”
Far too often, it’s in the chatter that questions, comments, and accounts about (in)appropriate behavior occurs. Maximize every opportunity to reinforce safety, safe boundaries, and safe lines of communication.
5. Talk often.
Only one conversation about sexual abuse prevention just doesn’t cut it.
Unfortunately, our culture does not allow the luxury of a one-stop-talk of sorts. Being open to talking about sexual abuse prevention needs to be as “ready” as talking about manners, polite speech, and doing one’s chores: frequently.
Pray often, too. Conversation with the Lord will allow balance as you give the Maker of the Universe full access to your heart, your words, and your relationships, including the ones that rely upon your protection.
6. Ask questions.
When something doesn’t seem quite right, ask questions. Consider taking a deep breath, brainstorming with another adult, or praying before asking follow-up questions, but don’t just assume all is well because they haven’t come right out and stated something is wrong.
Sexual abuse is confusing to children and teenagers. Mixed feelings and emotions bog down the spirit and, often, clog communication to a halt for a young child or teenager.
7. Get help.
As soon as you suspect or learn of abuse against one of your own, get help, immediately. For known abuse, call the police right away. Don’t let fear, shame, or anger interfere with doing what is right.
If suspected abuse, reach out to a counselor who is trained and specialized with working with child victims of sexual abuse. Not all counselors are alike.
Do not confront the abuser. Doing so may permit the abuser time to defend or change his or her story. It may also impede proper pursuit by authorities during their investigation process, if needed.
Nothing we do to protect our children is full-proof. In the same respect, doing nothing to protect them is inexcusable.
Love your children fully. Engage in their lives and in conversation, each and every day.
What’s your next step?
Where do you need to begin within your home? your family? Which steps seem most challenging for you as a survivor? Take time to explore, prayerfully, why these steps stir up discomfort within you.
For the brave, post additional ways in which we can actively engage in conversation with our children to prevent sexual abuse.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8).