So, how do we help keep our kids safe with the ones we love? Here are a few tips that can decrease risk and make it more comfortable to discuss.
1. Make it Part of Normal Conversation
When we talk about it, we can gain a sense of how other people feel about the subject - what they know, and share what we know. When we're not afraid to talk about it, we're not only giving others a chance to learn - we'e letting potential abusers know that we're vigilant.
Especially with our spouses/partners, it is best when we are both on the same team. If you are all about teaching body safety and taking precautions and your spouse is acting like you're ridiculous - that certainly doesn't help and may even be a sign that they are deterring you on purpose.
2. Promote Body Autonomy
3. Ask Them To Be In Your Child's Body Safety Circle
And the truth is, many children do not tell their parents first - they often tell a friend or a peer. Inviting an older, responsible cousin or other family member into the body safety circle may help increase the likelihood of the child telling someone that knows to get help.
4. Be Vigilant for Signs of Grooming
- seems to have a 'favorite' child or seems excessively affectionate/complimentary.
- only plays with the kids and doesn't hang out with people their age.
- tends to bully or boss around the other children.
- makes sexually inappropriate comments.
- has a lot of 'cool' stuff that the kids always want to check out.
- seeks alone time with children, away from others.
- Downplays the need for privacy when bathing, using the toilet, dressing or sleeping.
5. Increase Supervision
6. Listen & Observe Behaviors
Does the adult seem controlling or overly attentive to the child? Does the child look forward to seeing this person - is the child talkative in regard to how they spend their time together or does the other person seem to dominate the conversation? Does the child complain or make vaguely derogatory comments about the person? Does the child withdraw or refuse to talk? Do you witness any other warning signs of abuse?
7. Talk To Our Children
It may feel uncomfortable to talk with other members of our family about sexual abuse and therefore put the responsibility on children. Yet, this is often how sexual abuse is perpetrated within families that do teach their kids body safety. To us, teaching kids body safety is like a seat belt - it's there in case of an accident, but ultimately we're the ones that are in the driver's seat and should be doing everything in our power to avoid a dangerous situation in the first place.
- Children should know that no one - not their parents, siblings, grandparents, etc have a right to touch them or show them anything related to their bodies that makes them uncomfortable.
- No one should be asking them to keep secrets. No one should be threatening them or forcing them to do anything they don't like.
- And most importantly, that it's not their job to protect themselves, it's our job . Their only job is to tell, so that we can get help. Not just for them, but for the person who is breaking the rules about body safety.
8. Don't Forget Our Teens
It is just as important that we continue the conversation - with other family members and our children, and maintain a communication channel between ourselves and our children as best we can, while respecting their growing need to gain independence and responsibility for themselves.
But talking to our kids shouldn't just be about protecting them from others, but also so they understand what it means to treat others with respect and what healthy, responsible bodily and sexual behavior is. Puberty is a common period of development for children to be curious about their own sexuality, and without proper guidance and open communication, the likelihood for a child to perpetrate sexual abuse increases.
9. Listen To Our Gut
In the past, some non-offending parents noticed but didn't pick up on or tried to downplay certain signs before their child disclosed abuse:
- An offending grandparent that kept suggesting the child was 'too attached' to her parents and needed more time away from them.
- A spouse that flattered his daughter about her looks in comparison to his wife ' you look better in that dress than your mother ever did!'
- An aunt that continued to give her nephew gifts, despite the parents asking her to stop.
- An uncle that would watch tv with his nephew's head in his lap.
- A child that always played with cousins much younger than him.
10. Don't Wait for A Disclosure
After all, children have a right to be safe from all form of abuse, and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to protect that right.