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10 Powerful Ways to Teach your Child the Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse

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Are you Teaching your Toddler Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse
By Natasha Daniels

We teach our young children all sorts of ways to keep themselves safe. We teach them to watch the hot stove, we teach them to look both ways before they cross the street, but more often than not – body safety is not taught until much older – until sometimes…it is too late.

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. You want to hear something even scarier? According to the US Department of Justice only 10% of perpetrators were strangers to the child and 23% of the perpetrators were children themselves!

These statistics do not surprise me. In my practice I meet children on a weekly basis who have been victims of sexual abuse. Many of them are under five years old. Almost all of them knew their perpetrator and more often than not – it is another kid! Yes – another kid.

Parents will frequently tell me that they didn’t think this could happen to them. That they never leave their children with strangers. That they always keep their children within their eyesight.

Does your child go on playdates? Do they go to daycare or pre-school? Do you have friends or family over to your house? Do they play at the neighbor’s house? The fact is – you cannot fully prevent the risk of your child being sexually abused. I know that is hard to stomach – but unfortunately it is reality.

I have worked with really great families – who thought they had really great friends, neighbors, playmates, teachers, coaches, teammates, cousins, babysitters, siblings, uncles, boyfriends, and classmates. Perpetrators look just like you and me. They look just like your child – I think that is the scariest fact.

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The children I have worked with have come from good neighborhoods, good homes – go to really good schools. I have worked with kids who have been sexually abused by other kids as young as 4! I have worked with children who have been sexually abused on playdates, sleepovers, in the classroom, on the playground, on the school bus, in their playroom and out in their backyard.

Now that I have officially scared you to death – let’s walk you off that cliff. We have to face the fact that we cannot protect our children from breaking bones, getting hurt or making mistakes. Nor can we prevent them from being at risk for sexual abuse. Just like we allow our children to get on a bike, even though they might fall and hurt themselves – we have to allow our children to go out into the world and interact with those around them. But…just like the bike helmet, we can arm our children with knowledge that might keep them safe. Knowledge might be the one difference that might save your children from being a victim. Click To Tweet

Parents do not always talk to their children about body safety early enough. I have heard all sorts of reasons why this does not happen. They are too young. I keep an eye on them. They won’t understand. It is a scary topic. It won’t happen to me. We live in a good neighborhood.

Talk to your children. It is never too soon. It doesn’t have to be a scary conversation. Don’t wait another day. Start these conversations today. Here are the 10 most important areas to cover:

  1. Talk about body parts early.

    Name body parts and talk about them early – very early. Use proper names for body parts – or at least teach your child what the actual words are for their body parts. I can’t tell you how many young children I have worked with who have called their vagina their “bottom” and other various names. If a child needs to make a disclosure of abuse – this can make their story confusing.

  2. Teach them that body parts are private.

    Tell your child that their private parts are called private because their private parts are not for everyone to see. Explain that mommy and daddy can see them naked, but people outside of the home should only see them with their clothes on. Explain how their doctor can see them without their clothes because mommy and daddy are there with them and the doctor is checking their body.

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  3. Teach your child body boundaries.

    Tell your child matter-of-factly that no one should touch their private parts and that no one should ask them to touch somebody else’s private parts. Parents will often forget the second part of this sentence. Sexual abuse often begins with the perpetrator asking the child to touch them or someone else.

  4. Tell your child that body secrets are not okay.

    Most perpetrators will tell the child to keep the abuse a secret. This can be done in a friendly way such as, “I love playing with you, but if you tell anyone else what we played they won’t let me come over again” or as a threat – “This is our secret. If you tell anyone I will tell them it was your idea and you will get in big trouble!” Tell your child that no matter what anyone tells them, body secrets are not okay. Let your child know that they should always tell you if someone makes them keep a body secret.

  5. Tell your child that no one should take pictures of their private parts.

    This one is often missed by parents. There is a whole sick world out there of pedaphiles who love to take and trade pictures of naked children online. This is an epidemic and it puts your child at risk. If you only talk about body safety you might be missing a risk factor. Tell your child that no one should ever take pictures of their private parts.

  6. Teach your child how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations.

    Some children are uncomfortable with telling people “No” – especially older peers or adults. Help give them excuses to get out of uncomfortable situations. Tell your child that if someone wants to see or touch private parts they can tell them that they need to leave to go potty.

  7. Have a code word your child can use when they feel unsafe or want to be picked up.

    As children get a little bit older, you can give them a code word that they can use when they are feeling unsafe. This can be used at home, when there are guests in the house or when they are on a playdate or a sleepover.

  8. Tell your child they will never be in trouble if they tell you a body secret.

    Children often tell me that they didn’t say anything because they thought they would get in trouble too. This is often reiterated by the perpetrator. Tell your child that no matter what happens – when they tell you anything about body safety or body secrets they will NEVER get in trouble.

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  9. Tell your child that a body touch might tickle or feel good.

    Many parents and books talk about “good touch – bad touch” – but usually these touches do not hurt or feel bad. Try and stay away from these phrases, as it can confuse a child that is “tickled” in their private parts. I prefer the term “secret touch” – as it is a more accurate depiction of what might happen.

  10. Tell your child that even if they know someone or even if it is another child – these rules are the same.

    This is an important point to discuss with your child. When you ask a young child what a “bad guy” looks like they will most likely describe a cartoonish villain. Be sure to mention to your child that no one can touch their private parts. You can say something like, “No one should touch your private parts. Mommy and daddy might touch you when we are cleaning you or if you need cream – but no one else should touch you there. Not friends, not aunts or uncles, not teachers or coaches – no one. Even if you like them or think they are in charge, they should still not touch your private parts.”

I am not naïve enough to believe that these discussions will absolutely prevent sexual abuse, but I know that children are at a much greater risk without these talks. knowledge is a powerful deterrent to childhood sexual abuse – especially with young children who are targeted due to their innocence and ignorance in this area. Have these discussions often. One discussion is not enough. This is a topic that should be revisited again and again. Find natural times to reiterate these messages – such as bath time or when they are running around naked.

This can be a life altering article for some families and it has the power to prevent some horrific and traumatic experiences. Please share this article with those you love and care about and help me spread the message of body safety!


Natasha Daniels
About the Author: Natasha Daniels
 

Natasha is a Child Therapist and a mother to three vibrant, challenging and insightful children who keep her on her toes! She created her website, Anxious Toddlers, to offer support, guidance and laughs to parents of toddlers. She has spent the last fifteen years working with toddlers in her practice and helping families with parenting issues at Hill Child Counseling – ‘Sometimes toddlers can feel like a different species and I hope to help unlock the mystery of how to keep your little one smiling, laughing and enjoying the moment one day at a time.’

Natasha is a Clinical Social Worker and she received her post-graduate training in infant and toddler mental health at The Harris Institute. She is one of only a handful of child therapists who offer a specialty in toddler mental health and who has a practice that offers counseling to families on toddler parenting issues.

She spends half her week in her practice and the other half of her week soaking up the innocence of her children and enjoying the simpler things in life.

In September 2015 her book, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler will be released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

She can be reached at anxioustoddlers@yahoo.com

You can find Natasha at her website, Anxious Toddlers, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube

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32 Comments

Jess

This is such an excellent article. I have often wondered how to talk about this with my young children and now I feel much more prepared for that conversation. I worry so much about sexual abuse and my kids because they are so young and so innocent. This article has armed me with the talking points I need to speak openly with my kids about sexual abuse and, hopefully, arm them with the tools they need to get help if they ever need it or avoid a dangerous situation. Thank you!

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Nikki Shanahan

I have done all of the suggestions since my daughter was 4ish. You would be surprised how many people berate me for teaching my child the correct names for her body parts and all about private parts and who can or cannot touch them. People believe that children do not need to know that there are sick people out in the world, but I disagree. Forewarned is forearmwd. My daughter does not feel scared but knows there are wierd people out there and how to protect herself.

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Jo

Very useful article – a subject I have been bracing myself to tackle with my kids and this has really helped me feel more prepared.

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Jo

One question tho – how does one prevent kids from then seeing later, normal sexual experimentation as being wrong or dirty?

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Hey Sigmund

This is such a great question. Firstly, I think it’s important to let them know that anything they want to do on their own in private is okay – that’s all part of normal exploration and it’s important that they get to know their own body. When they’re little, it not so much about specifically telling them it’s okay but more about not standing in their way. Kids will naturally be curious about their own body and that’s healthy and normal. The main thing is that they are given space to do that, that they understand that it’s completely fine, but that it’s something that happens in private – not because it’s wrong or dirty but because it’s private. It’s kind of like having a bath – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a bath – it’s fun and everyone does it, but they wouldn’t get naked and have a bath in their classroom with their whole class watching because it’s private.

Secondly, empower them to take notice of that voice inside them or that feeling that something isn’t right. Let them know that they can always say ‘no’ to someone who asks something of them if it doesn’t feel right or if they don’t feel comfortable doing it.

Thirdly, let them know about the 2 yes’ and 1 no rule – sexual experimentation is completely normal and okay but when there is someone else involved, a ‘yes’ requires a yes from both people involved (2 yes’s) and a no only takes 1 no – if one person doesn’t want to do ahead (and that one person can be them, of course!) then it doesn’t happen.

It’s about empowering them to decide, making sure they don’t feel judged or shamed when they explore their own bodies (but guiding them towards privacy), giving them permission to explore and experiment, and empowering them to say ‘no’ if they want to. The ‘yes’ is up to them (and when they are older it’s also up to the other person they are with) and the ‘no’ is up to them. Hope this helps.

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Nancy Barrett

While I agree with most of your article, and I’ve done similar things while raising my daughter, and working with my previous clients, there are two things I believe you didn’t address adequately.

Younger children DO need to have their diaper or pull-up changed at daycare or preschool, so explaining to them that a caregiver might have to touch their privates with toilet paper or wipes (not bare hands) to help them clean is okay. Some potty-trained kids aren’t efficient at wiping either, so parents may need to tell them it’s okay to have an adult help if needed. In kindergarten my friend’s son came home with poop smeared all over his butt one day because he refused to let the teacher help him wipe – not because he was stubborn about doing it himself or because he didn’t trust the teacher (who had also been his preschool teacher for 2 years before kinder and had changed and wiped him hundreds of times before) but because they had talked the night before about not letting anyone touch his private parts. Kids are SO literal!! He had been sitting in his poop for about 2 hours before his mom picked him up, and she then had to go back and clarify with him that it was okay to have certain people help with wiping if he needed it.

I also feel you didn’t fully explain what sexual abuse by another child is vs. normal childhood behavior. There are parents out there who truly believe that their 1 or 2 year old operates with the same level of thought and logic as an older child or adult. They believe their littles puposefully do things to be defiant or aggressive instead of recognizing its a developmental stage or an opportunity to teach appropriate behavior. A 3 or 4 year old touching a same-aged peer is probably not being abusive; they are just being curious and that’s a great opportunity for some basic education about gender differences! I’ve been out of the field for a few years now, but when assessing if abuse occurred I was always taught to look at the age difference (both chronological age and cognitive age) between the two children, whether threats of harm (or promises of rewards) were made by the child who has more power in the relationship, the frequency with which the touching occurred, and the level of distress that the incident(s) caused for the child. In a lot of the cases I worked with, the child was actually more distressed by their parent’s reaction to the incident than the actual incident itself. If you are concerned about something your child tells you, trust your gut, consult a professional and DON’T freak out about it within earshot of your child.

And that brings me to my final point. I think it is vital that we teach our children NOT to fear and distrust everyone they meet, while simultaneously teaching them to be safe. The rule in our family is that it IS okay to talk to strangers … as long as a parent or trusted adult is there to supervise (usually within earshot, but as she’s gotten older, sometimes it’s just within eyesight), and you don’t give out personal info before checking with the adult. At least 85% of the people your child sees on a daily basis are decent human beings, and interaction with others is a human need that our society is neglecting. My daughter loves to spread her happiness to others, and I don’t want to squash that love for life out of her. As she has gotten older, I’ve given her more responsibility for deciding if her gut says this is a safe person or not, but we still have the final say-so. I don’t want to send her into the world believing everyone is out to hurt her OR that everyone is perfectly safe. Tough balancing act, but it can be done.

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Maggy

I think this is great input and emphasizes the need for balance on this topic. Kids and families need accurate information to act wisely but not to be made so anxious that they fear healthy interactions….a great balancing act

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Martha Gibbons

Thanks for a very helpful article by the original author, but even greater gratitude to Nancy Barrett who wrote an excellent response. She spoke to all the issues I had when I finished reading the article – and came up with what I considered “the reality check” – handling those “exceptions to THE RULES” so life can go on! Recognizing that every child will absorb these “Do’s and Dont’s” differently (even siblings raised similarly) Ms. Barrett’s take on this important issue may come across as being more realistic for parents who know their children must interact with family members and caregivers on a regular basis. Today assuming that every child is being raised by a MOM and/or a DAD is not realistic. Teaching children to trust loving, competent
adults is as important (and difficult!) as helping them discern their “gut feelings” when confronted with would-be abusers. Not an easy task, but a necessary one, indeed! Again, thanks to both contributors!

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Katy

I actually have one more question- how do you teach children not to be the perpetrators of these abuses? I don’t imagine a 4 or 5 year old sets out to sexually abuse a classmate or is an evil child and yet from your article it sounds like that happens. So part of this discussion might also be spent explaining why it isn’t ok to touch other people either or making sure that we are both protecting our kids as well as teaching them not to be perpetrators. Sad but true- it can’t all be about the victim being responsible for saving themselves- I would like to think that we could teach the perpetrator not to do these things.

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Hey Sigmund

Absolutely – teaching kids to respect other people’s boundaries is also important. You don’t want to make them scared of the world though, or of being close to other people. I think a big part of it is teaching them that no means no – for them and other people. The gentle conversations we have with them along the way are all important.

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amommasview

What a great article and great advice. There are so many things out there that could harm our children if we don’t prepare them to protect themselves (as little as they are) or at least know what to do in case of. So many worries for us mothers. The right way of communicating to your child how to be safer is key. Sometimes it’s just difficult to find it without scaring them…

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Annette M. Alix

Excellent article and responses but there is another issue not addressed. From my own experience, I can tell you that another part of the body that is not included in these sex talks with children is the mouth and the type of kissing that should not occur. My own experience started very early as a preschool child, first with hugs from my father and uncle that were too close and painful to the point where I could not breathe. Then later, my father managed to meet me as I walked home from grade school with hugs and kisses on the mouth. As I entered the teen years, there were disgustingly uncomfortable kisses with his tongue in my mouth which he prefaced with “Say prunes”! Finally, because I missed so badly, having a male influence in my life, and because I had not seen him in a long time, I decided to bring my friends with me to see him. I wanted something to be proud of in connection with my father. He played the piano as I did and I wanted to “show him off”. So my girlfiend and her boyfriend plus another boy – a neighbor of mine – all went to his apartment. I was sixteen and he impressed my friends with his piano playing. Later, he drew me aside, he said “Say prunes, then grabbed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth. Somehow, I managed to work up the courage to push him aside, and told him “NO!” – and said “I don’t even kiss my boyfriends that way!” I didn’t see him for along time afterwards. I’ve tried not to make this too long. There is much more I could say. But mainly I’m writing this with the hope that you could address the issue of kissing children on the mouth – and that there are some types of kissing that may not be appropriate for young children. They need to know that it is NOT ok. I wish I had known. I’m a grandmother, now and the memories are still vivid in my mind.

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Brandy

I guess my only problem with this article is that it teaches “mommy and daddy” is ok. Well that’s not the case in my case, and by telling my child that very phrase I may have told her the abuse was fine, or kept her from telling period. I recently found out about her own father abusing her for 6 years, and only found out because I caught my youngest daughter putting toys where they don’t belong.. Upon telling her this story she eventually ended up telling me only to save her little sister from years of abuse! Mommy or daddy aren’t always ok..

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you so much for sharing this and I’m sorry that this has happened to your daughters. I wish no child had to go through this. Your daughter has shown incredible courage. I wish you and your girls much love and hope that they are now able be safe and feel support, love and strength around them as they heal.

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ajimotokan Hafsah

I think basically we should teach our kids that kouth to kouth kissing isnt ok for anybody, thus parents themselves should only peck their kids and not kiss them and tell them not to allow anyone koss them on the mouth and not kiss anyone too

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Alena

I recently discovered that my 6 1/2 year old made a friend’s 4 year old pull down her pants so he could look at her private parts and he kept showing her his penis. She was very not okay with all this and went home extremely upset. I didn’t find out about it until my friend told me after her daughter had told her about it. From your article, it sounds like if my son knew the rule about yes’s and no’s, he would have known to get a yes from her before doing what he did. But I wouldn’t want him engaging in that kind of behavior just because the other child said yes. I am okay with him exploring his body but I am not okay with him engaging in exploration with my friend’s kids, even if they say yes! He is too little to know what is and isn’t appropriate. And that is much too young of an age to be experimenting with sexual acts.
Are you saying with your yes/no rule that this behavior is okay or am I interpreting it wrong?
How do I prevent my child from touching other children’s body parts? How can I tell him no one can touch his and then tell him that he can touch other people’s body’s if the person says yes? The other implication of that is that if he says yes, then someone CAN touch his body and that could also lead to bad situations.

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Hey Sigmund

Alena the idea is to teach your son to protect the boundaries around the parts of his own body that are private, and only for him to touch, and to respect the body boundaries of other children. The idea around yes/no is for older children when they start to experiment in their relationships and when they understand the issue of consent. For younger children, the rules need to be more black and white – it’s never okay to touch someone else on the breasts, bottom or genitals, and same for their own bodies. Be clear about the boundaries. For young children, it is not possible to consent because they don’t know exactly what they are consenting to. This is why it is important to have concrete rules around the parts of the body they are not allowed to touch, and the parts of this body that nobody else is allowed to touch (though there will be exceptions to this, such as a doctor, but when you are present). I understand that it can be confusing – and it’s confusing for our kids too. This is why we need to be clear and concrete, particularly when they are younger. It’s why it’s also important that we nurture a relationship that helps them to feel as though they can come to us when they are confused about anything, and that nothing is off limits when it comes to asking us questions.

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Asma

Great article! But i still didn’t found the courage to talk to my 4 Yeats old about it. First because when i talk to her about everyday issues, i feel like she gets half of what i am saying and understands the rest totally wrong. And also, I never had this conversation with my mom so I don’t know how to address it. Is it out of the blue? Is it while getting her dressed? Is it with a scary tone? A funny friendly tone? I feel strongly that I need to axplain this to her but I just can’t find the courage.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It can be difficult to know how to start these conversations. One of Jay’s books would be a good place to start. Also, these conversations happen best incidentally – in the car, while you’re walking the dog. It also doesn’t need to happen all at once. While she’s having a bath, that might be a time to matter-of-factly let her know how she is the boss of her body and go from there. Definitely don’t use a scary tone. You want her to feel as though she can come and talk to you freely and if you scare her, it might shut that down. Remember too that at 4, the conversation might feel awkward for you, but she will love talking to you about anything.

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Asma

Thank you for your advice! I will first let her feel she is the boss of her body and then little by little I will get her to know everything you talked about in the article. I think also I might have to remind her from time to time. Thx.

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Ettina

Personally, I agree with teaching them the right names for things and not to keep secrets, but I think the most important thing to prevent abuse is to teach children that they can say no to touch if it makes them uncomfortable, even if it’s an adult asking. Then back them up when someone pushes that boundary – even grandma doesn’t get to touch them without their permission!

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VY

Thanks a lot for the article!!
May I ask…how can we explain that other people cannot touch their private parts in the situation of childcare setting where the carers will need to clean their private parts or see them using the toilet…? Appreciate your reply and guidance!! Thank you!

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maryjane

Pls, I have 3daughters, aged, 9,7,6. I also have a nephew aged 11, who i adopted and has been with us for six month now. He’s upbringing is different from that of my children, being that he grew up in a poor rural environment. I have the intention of giving him a better life here in the city.
Somehow, I fear leaving him alone with my girls.
What do u do to ensure any sort of abuse does not arise between him and the girls?

Also, can I discuss sexual abuse prevention to all of them at the same time?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Open and honest conversation is so important for all children. There needs to be really clear discussion about boundaries and the types of behaviour that are okay and not okay. There are things you can discuss with all of them at the same time, but there will also be things that the older children are ready for, that the younger children might not be. Here is an article that will help with that http://www.heysigmund.com/kid-needs-know-age-age-guide-sex-education/.

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