Often parents make the mistake of not talking to their children about body safety early enough, but it’s never too soon. Sexual abuse is a risk for everyone, even for a child, and it can happen anytime. Here’re things every parent needs to know to keep their child safe.
Most parents worry about how to protect their children in a world that sometimes seems so dangerous. As with any other danger, protecting our kids from risk starts with understanding those risks.
For instance, parents often think a discussion about “stranger danger” is sufficient to protect kids from sexual abuse, but 85 to 90 percent of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts – a parent, step-parent, coach, teacher, older cousin or sibling, religious leader, or babysitter (according to Peter A. Levine and Maggie Klein, authors of Trauma Proofing your Kids: A Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience).
A 2011 report found that 34 percent of child sexual abuse offenders are family members of the child (A Reasoned Approach: Reshaping Sex Offender Policy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse).
We tend to assume children are safe as long as we don’t leave them unsupervised with adults we don’t know well, but a 2000 report by the Criminal Justice Source Statistics found that the average age of most sex offenders is 14, so risk exists any time children are left without supervision with another child or a somewhat older child.
That may seem extreme, but in fact, sexual abuse is a risk for every child. Many researchers estimate that one out of four girls and one out of six boys will encounter unwanted sexual touching of some sort before age 18.
Parents often wonder when to begin talking with children about sexual abuse. The answer is that prevention begins with how we talk with our children about their bodies from infancy on. Here are some basic tips to guide you in educating your child to prevent sexual abuse.
Teaching Children Body Safety
1. Use a story as a tool to begin a conversation with your child.
Add a couple of the books in the list below to your child’s bookshelf and read them periodically. Use them as a jumping-off point to ask questions to reinforce the message.
2. Teach children the correct terms for their body parts.
Teach children the correct terms for their body parts as soon as they can talk. If a child is touched inappropriately, they need to be able to clearly communicate to you or anyone else in authority about what happened. The correct name also lessens shame around sexuality. Can you imagine if your knee was just referred to as “down there”?
3. Teach your child that the parts that go under a swimsuit — their penis, vulva, vagina, bottom, breasts and nipples — are called their ‘private parts.”
No one touches their private parts except their parents, or a doctor if the parent is present. They are not to touch anyone else’s private parts with any part of their body (hand, mouth, etc.)
4. Teach your child that if someone asks to see or touch their private parts
…or shows your child their private parts, they must tell you or another trusted adult straightaway. This is true no matter who the person is, including a relative, sitter, or even another child. Just say “Sometimes mom or dad helps you wipe when you poop, but no one else needs to touch you there. And you can wipe yourself when you pee, so no one, not even mom or dad, needs to touch you there. And now that you’re three, you can wash in the bath, so no one needs to wash you there, either. So if anyone–anyone at all–asks to see or touch your private parts, you must tell me about it.”
5. Ask your child questions to help them mentally rehearse the possible scenarios:
- “What would you do if someone touched you on your _______?”
- “Why is it important to tell?
- “Who would you tell?”
- “What would you do if the person said it was ‘our secret’?”
- “What if they made a threat, like they would hurt you or me?”
Encourage the child to say they would be brave and tell a parent or a teacher right away because it’s their body.
6. Role-play scenarios.
Experts say that playing “what if” games with kids gives them a chance to rehearse not only their words but their behavior because your presence and the “make-believe” scenario give them the courage to resist an advance. That programs their subconscious with a script to use if such an encounter should ever happen.