Informing your children about the dangers of sexual assault is a difficult conversation to have. Our children are innocent. It is difficult to bring up such a serious problem. Unfortunately, we also live in a world where it is essential to help children protect themselves. While accurate statistics are hard to come by, it is estimated that 20 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
Below are a few tips for making the discussion easier on you and your children. As part of the discussion, we also examine some behaviors to model for your children that may help them have the ability and language to say no and protect themselves from predatory behavior.
You can bring up sexual abuse prevention with your children early. While we obviously want to communicate in a way that can be understood by kids in an unthreatening way, even young children can understand “bad touching.” Also, bring up the topic more than once. You can remind children about appropriate touching any time they will be in contact with an adult without your supervision.
Other tips include:
- Have the discussion in a private place. For younger children, this could be during play or reading time. For older children and teens, the ride home from school is a good opportunity to bring it up.
- Don’t focus on strangers. Most abuse happens between a child and an adult they know, often a religious leader, coach or relative.
- Use specific language. You do not need to use euphemisms. Call body parts by their names.
Of course, modeling the right behavior for children is as important as having thoughtful conversations. Some tips for modeling the right behavior include:
- Respect your child’s boundaries. Your children’s great-aunt may just want a hug from your cute kids. But if your children do not want to be hugged, they can say no. The same goes for you, their other parent and siblings. If your children need personal space, let them have it. If they can say no to touching from you, they can say no to anyone.
- Acknowledge your own experiences. Mothers who are harassed on the street do not need to hide their feelings from their children. As children get older, sharing personal experiences can bring valuable knowledge to their own life.
- Being open.Your children should know that there are no secrets between you. Abusers often pledge their victims to secrecy. Be honest and respectful with your children, and it is more likely they will come to you if they feel uncomfortable about an adult acquaintance.
- Demonstrating the right actions. Being in supportive and respectful relationships will help your children know what the right kind of relationship is. If you are in an abusive relationship, please consider getting help for your own situation.
The good news is that more and more sexual abuse survivors are speaking out and raising awareness, making it easier for all of us to have productive and healthy conversations. April is sexual assault prevention month. As the month comes to a close, we hope these tips prove helpful to your family.