For Parents and Friends
Children depend on you to keep them safe! 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday!
As a parent, you have a unique opportunity to educate children about child abuse, child sexual abuse and other important topics that directly impact their safety and well-being. You are your child’s most influential and powerful role model. You can provide your child with information about child abuse and the tools necessary to empower them to stay safe and make good choices. The following information will help you to talk with your child about safety at home, in school, and in public areas. By communicating with your child, you will provide an atmosphere of openness and honesty for years to come.
Be knowledgeable...be aware...do your part to keep kids safe!
In order to assist you in communicating with your children, family members and the community about child abuse, we have developed a comprehensive list of books and websites for your information.
In addition, there are many local and national resources available for your information in learning more about child abuse and how to protect your child and the children in your community.
Talking to Your Kids
While talking to your child about keeping their bodies safe may seem a bit uncomfortable, we hope that you will come to view this conversation like any other safety conversation you have with your child. We hope it will become as routine as saying, “look both ways before you cross the street,” or “make sure to wash your hands after using the restroom.” We hope you will have this conversation not once, not twice, but all the time. Children forget things (you probably have to remind them to wash their hands every now and again), and they need reinforcement. The conversation will also mature as your child matures. Your child may develop questions for you as they realize you are willing to talk to them about their body and keeping it safe. You are your child’s first and best teacher, and by having this conversation you are letting them know that you love them and will keep them safe.
There’s no right way to talk to a child about their body. But the conversation should involve the following talking points. We’ve included some ideas about how to cover each topic with your child, but you know your child best. You should trust your instincts about how to have this conversation and do what feels the most comfortable.
Identifying Parts of the Body:
You teach your child their nose, their ears, and their eyes. They also need to know about the private parts of their body. Bath time and potty training are great times to incorporate teaching the private parts of the body to your little one. In our school program, High Five!, we show children this picture of two children at the beach. We tell them that the private parts of the body are very special and that they are “the parts of the body covered by your swimsuit.” It’s sometimes helpful to point out that boys and girls have different swimsuits because they have different private parts.
When speaking about specific body parts, we strongly encourage you to use the anatomically correct names of the body. Many parents prefer to call a boy’s penis or a girl’s vagina their “pee-pee” or “wee-wee”. However, terms like this may confuse a child. It may make them feel like these parts of the body are somehow different, and for a child experiencing sexual abuse, it may make them feel ashamed of their body. Furthermore, if a child discloses abuse but uses a “nickname” for a part of their body instead of a word like “penis” this could lead to confusion and miscommunication.
The Touching Rule:
You should firmly but gently explain to your child that no one should ever see or touch the private parts of their body. It does not matter who it is. Use examples like uncles, aunts, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, cousins, babysitters, friends of the family, the child’s sport coach, music teacher, and clergy to help your child really understand that you will protect them from anyone that may be hurting them or making them feel uncomfortable. No one, it doesn’t matter who it is, should ever see or touch the private parts of your child’s body.
Of course, sometimes an adult will need to touch or see the private parts of a child’s body. You can go over this with your child. We like to use the “clean and healthy” rule. We explain to children that sometimes an adult needs to see or touch their private parts to keep them “clean and healthy” and this is ok. Like sometimes your mom or dad has to help give you a bath. Or sometimes a doctor has to examine you because you are not feeling well. In these instances, it is ok for an adult to see or touch the private parts of the body. However, we stress a few things to children:
- Even if it’s to keep a child clean and healthy, it is still their body. They are still in control. They get to ask questions at the doctor’s office or have a parent in the room to feel more comfortable.
- As your child grows up, they will want to clean and bathe themselves. Allow them this independence and tell them they can always do something by themselves or alone if it is safe to do so.
- Even if an adult needs to see the private parts of a child’s body and it’s to keep them clean and healthy, it should be that persons job to do so. It should make sense that that person needs to examine them. Ask your child who the adults are that keep them clean and healthy at home, at school, or elsewhere.
Protecting our children from child sexual abuse is all about helping them to learn boundaries. Children need help developing these boundaries, and most importantly, they need your support. Children should know that expressing love and affection is their choice, and they should be able to choose to whom they are affectionate. If affection makes them uncomfortable, we must help them to be able to recognize that discomfort and support their decisions. We must teach children that we, as adults, respect their choices about their bodies.
As hard as it might be, don’t pressure your kids into hugging or kissing family members (and this should include you) if it makes them feel uncomfortable. If a child says “stop tickling me,” then stop and let them know that you are stopping because they asked you to do so. If a child knows that you will support their choices about who touches them in daily and routine settings, you are also communicating to them that you will support them if someone touches them in an unnatural or abusive setting. This is an extremely empowering message to send your children.
Children Touching Other Children:
Frequently, we are asked what to do about children touching other children by parents or teachers. It is important to know what behaviors are healthy and which behaviors are not healthy. This will help you to know if a larger problem is going on. Young children often show others the private parts of their bodies. If this is something your child is doing, simply communicate that, “No one should ever see or touch the private parts of your body. This means you shouldn’t show them the private parts of your body. “ You may also have to explain to a child that they cannot touch other children and they may need you to be firm but gentle in reinforcing that they must keep their hands to themselves.
It can sometimes be difficult to know what normal sexual behavior is for children as they grow and develop. We recommend the Healthy Sexual Development Chart as a wonderful resource to assist you in this area.
You Can Tell Me Anything!
Emphasize to your child that they can tell you anything – big or small. Tell them you will always love them no matter what. Tell them you will always keep them safe.
If your child does tell you about something that is bothering them (even something as small as a playground argument), take the time to really listen. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help – even if the problem seems resolved. This will create a bond of trust. Your child will know that you support them, and they will remember this if they ever do need to tell you something really important.
I Love You!
Tell your children that you love them! Use affirming language! Then tell them again. Sometimes an abuser may tell a child that they are not worthy of other people’s love, that a non-offending parent will choose the abuser over the child, or that a child is not special. The best way to combat these powerful messages is to tell your child your love them, that they are special, and that you will protect them from any harm.
People often want to know the answer to two deceptively difficult questions, “Why do people abuse?” and “How do I know who to trust with my child?”. We wish there were easy answers to these questions – it would make protecting children a lot simpler. The truth is that these are very complex questions, and there is no one, easy answer to either question.
People abuse children for a multitude of reasons. Some common reasons may be that they wish to exert power and control over a child or they were also abused as a child. Whatever the reason, it is important not to make excuses for abuse. While understanding an abuser’s actions helps the community with prevention and treatment, abuse should never be excused or diminished. Those who abuse are actively making a choice – indeed a series of choices – to hurt a child.
An Abuser is Often Someone You Trust
In most cases, the sexual predator is someone that the child knows and trusts.
90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abusers.
This means that parents or caregivers likely know the abuser too! The abuser may be a family member, the child’s babysitter or daycare provider, teacher, clergy, neighbor, coach, music instructor, or someone in any other position of trust that allows them access to a child. This is perhaps one of the most insidious facts about child abuse. It’s a betrayal of our children and our trust in the people we know and possibly love.
However, once you know a little bit about how predators operate, this need for a pre-existing relationship makes sense. Children are often “groomed” before they are abused. This means the abuser builds a trusting relationship with a child. They may treat a child extra special, buy them gifts, or offer to take them places to build a relationship. When the relationship does escalate to one with abuse, the presence of this relationship is a powerful part of the abuse. It makes the child confused (they may think to themselves, “this person loves me, they would never hurt me, this must be ok.”). The child may not want to report the abuse because it means the “extra special relationship” will stop or they may think their family won’t believe them because the abuser is so “nice.”
The child abuse community often talks about how abusers “groom” children, and that’s true – they do. But abusers also groom non-offending adults. Abusers want to portray themselves as nice, child loving, responsible adults. This helps to gain them access to children and it is counter to our stereotypical abuser, which allows them to abuse undetected. The link below is a video of an abuser interview from “Protecting Our Children.” In it the abuser talks about how he gained the trust of his daughter (the child abuse victim) and the adults around her.
"Strangers" Still Pose a Risk!
While 90% of kids are abused by someone they know, 10% are abused by a stranger. It is therefore, still important to talk to your child about basic safety rules concerning strangers (don’t talk to, take anything, or go anywhere with a stranger).
Also, kids are exposed to strangers online. Kids often receive unsolicited and inappropriate messages from online predators. If a child or youth forms an online relationship with a person, they may not regard this person as a stranger. However, the ease of creating a false identity online means that this person may very well be a stranger, even though the child thinks they “know” the person.
What Can I Do to Protect My Child?
There are lots of things you can do to protect your child. The most powerful tool you have to protect your child is to talk to your child (see section above). Clear, consistent, and early messages from you about what abuse is - that no one should ever touch them inappropriately and that they should tell you if anything ever happens - are your most powerful weapons against abuse. Also, simply knowing and accepting that an abuser could be someone you know means that you are more likely to remain vigilant in your child’s protection.
Family Members as Abusers
No one wants to believe his or her family member could be an abuser. It’s a person’s worst nightmare. However, if we don’t talk about this possibility, then this allows abusers to continue to operate undetected in families for years.
Communication in a family should be open. You should know what other family members are doing with your child, what activities they are involved in, and all adults should sign on to a mantra of no secrets! A family is no place for secrets.
If your child is uncomfortable around a family member, respect that. Allow them space. If your child’s discomfort is new or out of character, ask them about it, listen to what they have to say, be supportive, and if necessary, be protective (proactive?).
One-on-One Situations Outside the Home
Most children are abused when they are alone with another adult. Therefore, it is important to manage these situations if they occur outside of your home.
- If your child is involved in an extracurricular or enrichment activity, limit the opportunities your child has to be alone with the supervising adult. Sometimes alone time is necessary, but remember, alone time does not have to be unseen time!
- If being alone is critical to the activity, (it’s a one-on-one music lesson, it’s a tutoring session, etc.), try to increase the visibility of the activity. Can it be out in the open? Can you drop in whenever you like? Is there a window in the room they will be in? Can the door remain open?
- If you are leaving your child for an activity, make sure you know what the adult and the child will be doing. Ask the adult, “what will you do today?”. Then, when you pick up your child, ask them about what happened while you were apart.
- There should never be a time you can’t have access to or check up on your child. Set rules, make sure you are comfortable, and make sure you keep communicating with your child.
Now I Just Feel Paranoid!
You may feel like all of this is just too much. The above steps do not involve mistrusting other people. They involve a commitment to being pro-active in your child’s safety. It also lays the groundwork for building a solid relationship with your child. As a parent, you should know where they are, who they are with, and what they did while away. Shying away from or being unwilling to have these conversations is what abusers rely on and hope for. If these conversations are part of your routine, you will be an advocate for your child.
What To Say if a Child Discloses
If a child discloses abuse to you, it is very important that you listen without judgment to what the child is telling you. The following list is a guide to help you assist a child who has disclosed abuse.
- “Thank you for telling me.”
- “I believe you.”
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “I love you.”
- “I care about you.”
- “I will help you.”
- “There is someone you can talk to about what happened.”
- “How do you feel about going home today?”
- Call the State or Local Child Abuse Hotline
- Call the Mandated Reporter Hotline if you are a mandated reporter
- Call 911 if the child is in immediate danger
- show shock or other strong reaction.
- probe for more information.
- make promises you can’t keep.
- repeat what the child told you unless there is a clearly defined need for that person to know. Respect the child’s right to confidentiality.