Throughout my professional career I’ve done a lot of work with children; specifically, children who are survivors of sexual trauma. Although that isn’t the focus of my clinical work anymore, currently, a portion of my patients are adults who have had similar traumatic experiences when they were children and are just now seeking treatment for the lasting effects that sexual abuse and incest can have.
Now that I am a parent to a young child, it’s no surprise that safety is on my mind, pretty much 24/7. And because I have worked with kids and adults who have experienced abuse at the hands of both strangers and loved ones, I’ve been looking for the best ways to help keep my child (and yours) safe from sexual predators.
Don’t Be Scared. Be Prepared.
Tricky People: Do you remember when you were younger and your parents/caregivers use to warn you about strangers? Although with good intention, they’d make it seem like the only people with malicious intent were those who you have never met before, which we now know is not the case. In fact, according to RAINN, 93% of perpetrators are known to their victims. And even if they aren’t, how easy is it to get around the whole stranger issue by introducing ones self? Luckily, Pattie Fitzgerald, of Safely Ever After, coined the term “Tricky People” and it’s one of the best ways to help a child spot an inappropriate adult, in my opinion. So when you are trying to discuss with your child ways to spot a grown-up who is behaving in an unsafe way, a tricky adult can be ANYONE—whether you know them or not. I recommend taking a look at Fitzgerald’s website for further information on how to prepare your kids for tricky situations.
Uncomfortable Touch: One of my favorite children’s books about “uncomfortable touch” is entitled, “It’s MY Body” by Lory Freeman. Throughout the book she identifies a number of situations in which a child may experience touch that is uncomfortable, i.e. being tickled too hard, being given a slurpy kiss, or being held too tightly. She validates touch that a child may not like and then teaches them how to respond.
How to say “No” to being touched AND being asked to touch: Another aspect of Freeman’s book that I really like is that she touches upon what a child should do if they are asked to touch someone else. Usually we focus on helping kids set boundaries for their own bodies, but what happens when they are asked to touch someone in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable? Make sure that this is a topic you broach with your child. And if you decide to take a look at Freeman’s book, it can help broach the topic without it seeming too scary.
Trusting Your Gut: We all know that feeling, deep in the pit of our stomachs, when we are feeling nervous, scared or can tell something is starting to go badly. Well, kids experience that, too! Capitalize on it. It’s a great way to help your child practice paying attention to what their bodies are telling them. So, if they are in a situation in which their tummies feel funny, they should go find help.
There’s No Such Thing As Secrets: When kids are being mistreated or abused, often times the perpetrator will tell them that what’s taking place is a secret and secrets can’t be broken. Or maybe if they break the secret, someone they love will be harmed. If you explain to your children that there’s no such thing as a secret in your family, it can give them an easy pass to “break” said secret without feeling guilty or afraid. If secrets don’t count in your house, your child technically isn’t breaking one, right?
Sharing Your Body Safely: So we’ve been through ways to help keep your children safe, as well as how to reach out for help if necessary. So what next? Well, it’s just as important to discuss safe touch with your children, as it is uncomfortable touch. What is safe touch? Safe touch is holding hands with a friend, a lick from your puppy, tickles from mom, or holding the hand of your baby cousin. As long as your child wants to share their body and it makes them (and the other person/pet) feel good and happy, that touch is safe.
Your Body Is Yours
We all have our own bodies, something we’ve had since we were brought into this world. How empowering is it to know that we have the right to welcome or turndown touch? So go ahead and empower your child! Remind them that their body is special in every way and with that comes the ability to make safe choices for themselves. So help them use their voice, a skill that will come in handy throughout their lifetime!
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