We’ve just wrapped up April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I’m excited to share a post from guest blogger, Elisabeth Caron. She shares some easy yet powerful tips for helping to keep your child safe, no matter their age, all year long. ~ Lora Brawley
If just having “the talk” about the birds and the bees is intimidating for parents and caregivers, talking about sexual abuse and assault with kids can seem overwhelming. Many adults would like to just skip this conversation, but when you consider that about 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be victims of child sexual abuse, it’s clear that it’s an essential topic. Fortunately, there are simple ways to address and prevent sexual abuse in kids of any age so those sit-down conversations are much easier.
Use real names for body parts. Even babies and toddlers can start learning about their body in a healthy way when you use real, no-nonsense words for their body parts. When kids are given the language to talk about their own bodies, they’ll be able to understand what parts are okay for others to touch, and to tell an adult exactly what happened if they are ever abused.
Your body, your choice. Allow children to make reasonable decisions about their own body, and never force them to hug or kiss friends or relatives if they don’t want to. Even if Grandpa is upset not to get a hug, it’s important that they learn “no means no,” so back them up if necessary.
Private parts stay private. A good rule for children is that anything covered by a bathing suit is private, and others should only see or touch the child’s private parts to keep them clean and healthy, like a caregiver at bath time, or a doctor giving a checkup. It’s normal for little kids to be curious about their own and others’ anatomy, so if you do discover your preschoolers “playing doctor” or shedding their clothes, calmly and matter-of-factly remind them of that rule without shaming or punishing.
Forget about “stranger danger.” The idea of a man in a white van luring children in with candy is common, but it’s not based in fact. In reality, 93% of children who have been sexually abused know their abuser, and 34% are abused by family members. Instead of warning kids about talking to strangers, talk to them instead about “tricky people” who ask for their help, break family rules, give them special gifts, or tell them to keep secrets. You also can help your children brainstorm other safe adults to talk to – maybe their teacher, a school nurse, their nanny – if they feel uncomfortable talking to their parents.
No secrets allowed. Teach kids that it’s always okay to tell secrets to their parents and caregivers. Respect their privacy and take them seriously, because a child who can’t trust you with little secrets won’t trust you with the big ones.
Talk factually about sex. A child who is old enough to ask questions about sex is old enough to hear the honest answer. Kids absolutely will hear all sorts of misinformation from their peers, so be sure that you’re creating an open dialogue and a safe space to ask questions.
Be calm, supportive and open. Having a family atmosphere of open, honest communication becomes even more crucial as teens begin to explore dating and sex. Make sure your teen knows they can talk to you about any question or tell you anything and you won’t get mad or punish them.
Create a safety plan. Instead of hoping your teen won’t get into tough situations involving sex, alcohol, abuse, etc, brainstorm ways to handle them safely. One important, tangible way adults can keep teens safe is by offering to come pick them up at any time of the day or night if they ever feel unsafe, without worrying about being punished for partying or engaging in sexual activity.
Provide resources. Again, teens will soak up messages about sex and consent from their peers, media, and mainstream culture, so make sure that they are also getting healthy, accurate information at home. Introduce them to books like S.E.X. by Heather Corinna, websites like Scarleteen, and hotline resources like RAINN. Teens should also be allowed to see their doctors alone, and to get birth control if and when they need it.
Author Bio Elisabeth Caron is a professional nanny in Washington DC, where she currently cares for three children under the age of three. She has nine years of experience working in early childhood education, in both home and classroom settings, and a BA from Wellesley College. In her spare time, she enjoys knitting, museums, baking, and activism. You can find her blog about respectful infant care and play-based learning at www.playbasedkids.com, or on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram as @playbasedkids.