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

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. [bctt tweet=”Knowledge might be the one difference that might save your children from being a victim.”]

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 

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

56 Comments

Shima

I have a two-year-old daughter. In our country, Iran, psychologists say that in the bathroom, I must wear panties, so I hide my vagina from my child. So does my daughter. She should wear panties in the bathroom. In the end I see the walls and tell her take off your panties and wash yourself.
I was totally nude up to here. Is it a correct behavior?
Thanks for responding me.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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