Last week, I attended a workshop titled, “The TALK: Talking to Adults, Listening to Kids – Realistic Strategies for Promoting the Sexual Safety of Young Children.” Sponsored by a parenting group in a nearby town, the speaker, Nora Shine, PhD, was a psychologist, experienced in dealing with child survivors of abuse and trauma and an expert in sexual safety. It was a challenging session to attend. Challenging in the sense that the subject matter—the sexual abuse of children—is a devastating—and terrifying—problem. Increasingly, in the media, we hear about cases of abuse—from the Sandusky scandal at Penn State to the Catholic priests who abused children for decades—and Dr. Shine shared the grim news that many more cases go unreported. She explained that one in five children under the age of 20 experiences sexual abuse—and that number is considered low. In a startling 94% of cases, the abuser is not a stranger, but someone known to the child and/or his/her family. The average age of a child when abuse takes place is seven years.
- Green (go) – situations and people you instinctively know to be safe for your child.
- Yellow (proceed with caution) – situations and people that make you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and/or troubled. These are the most critical in stopping or preventing sexual abuse. So many people ignore signs of inappropriate behavior, assuming that they read the situation incorrectly, when really deep down they’ve noticed something that is not right. If people did something here—spoke up or intervened in some way—abuse could be stopped.
- Red (stop) – situations of abuse.
Other precautions Dr. Shine spoke about included parenting strategies that focused on openness and honesty, including:
- Answer questions: Some people are uncomfortable talking about sex and the human body. Predators know that, and use it to their advantage. Parents therefore should give children facts about their bodies, sex, reproduction, and other topics in a clear and honest way, putting aside their own discomfort, so they feel comfortable asking questions and speaking up when something is not right.
- Model boundaries and respect: Establish family rules (e.g., everyone gets private time when they are in the bathroom, no one is naked in front of guests, etc.) and then be consistent executing those rules.
- Adopt “privates” rules: Dr. Shine is a big proponent of using the correct name for body parts, believing that euphemisms and nicknames retain some element of shame or discomfort. To that end, though, sometimes, using the general term of “privates” may help others feel more comfortable (this is especially helpful when out in public, visiting with friends and family, etc.). She recommended using clear rules about privates, such as: privates are private, no adult should show any kid their privates, and no one should ever take a picture of a child’s privates. These “privates rules” should emphasize that the child’s responsibility is to always tell mom or dad when someone violates the rules.
- Establish truth rules: Dr. Shine suggested that families create rules around the need for kids to tell their parents the truth—no matter what anyone else says. Emphasize that they will not get in trouble for sharing the truth or telling a secret to mom and dad (this is helpful as abusers often tell their victims not to tell anyone about the abuse, referring to it as their “secret”).
- Limit 1:1 time: One of the best ways to end abuse is to eliminate opportunities for someone to spend one-on-one alone time with a child. All interactions should be in a public place with others around, and, if that’s not possible, another adult should be nearby or plan to “pop in” unexpectedly.
- Walk with confidence: Dr. Shine wasn’t a fan of the “stranger danger” talk, seeing it as fear inducing and unrealistic (e.g., we tell our kids not to talk to strangers and then we chat with the person we’ve never met who’s in front of us in line in the grocery store). Rather, she encourages parents to teach children to walk with confidence, pay attention to what’s around them, follow their intuition, and be wary of tricky, overly familiar, or pushy people.
Since talking about these topics can be hard, Dr. Shine suggested getting a book to read together with your child, as a means to get the conversation started. Some of the ones she recommended included:
- “It’s Not the Stork” by Robie Harris (I’ve had friends suggest this book, too.)
- “How Babies are Made” by Steven Schepp and Andrew Andry
- “Those are My Private Parts” by Diane Hansen
For parents, she mentioned, “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin De Becker and “The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear From You About Sex” by Sharon Maxwell.
This post doesn’t begin to capture what I learned from this course—I had eight pages of notes! At times, I found the content overwhelming, but, after a week of reflecting upon Dr. Shine’s content, I have four key take aways:
- Talk to kids about their bodies, reproduction, and adult versus kid behavior. Answer their questions concisely, addressing just what they are asking. Don’t add information they are not yet ready to hear.
- Establish a family dynamic where kids know how important it is to tell parents what’s going on—both good and bad.
- Listen to your instincts and don’t feel afraid or ashamed to speak up when something or someone makes you uncomfortable—no matter what.
- Listen to your kids and pay attention to what they say and do. If they say they don’t want to do something or be with someone, ask why, instead of pushing them into it.
This talk brought an increased awareness to a dark and disturbing problem. I’m more aware now, with some ideas to implement, and I thank Dr. Shine for that. As she noted at the end of her talk, “Kids cannot protect themselves from predators. Adults must protect them.” By sharing what we know, we can make sure we’re working toward that goal.
CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION MONTH
Everyone can do small things every day that help children to have healthy, safe lives. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The calendar below suggests an activity you can do each day of the month to show a child how much you care. Every activity is not necessarily developmentally appropriate for every child. So, be creative!
Saturday 1 Compliment a child’s accomplishment.
Sunday 2 Read a book with a child. Those are MY Private Parts
Monday 3 Fly a kite together.
Tuesday 4 Involve a child in preparing a special meal.
Wednesday 5 Catch your child doing something good.
Thursday 6 Remind your child that your love is not dependent on schoolwork.
Friday 7 Leave a love note in your child’s lunch bag.
Saturday 8 Ask your child’s opinion on an issue that affects the family.
Sunday 9 Go to a playground or a park together.
Monday 10 Coordinate a scavenger hunt around your house.
Tuesday 11 Tell a child about something funny that happened to you when you were a child.
Wednesday 12 Take flowers home to your spouse with a note on why you value your marriage.
Thursday 13 Bake and decorate a cake or make cookies together.
Friday 14 Work on an art project together.
Saturday 15 Talk with a child about what to do in an emergency.
Sunday 16 Look for figures in the clouds.
Monday 17 Give a new responsibility—and a new privilege—to your child.
Tuesday 18 Practice crossing the street safely.
Wednesday 19 Visit neighbors together, particularly if they have children.
Thursday 20 Donate old clothes, toys, or household items to charity together.
Friday 21 Watch a video together.
Saturday 22 Help a child write a letter to his or her grandmother, favorite TV star, or the President.
Sunday 23 Have a picnic in the yard or the park.
Monday 24 Choose something to count (trucks, dogs). Take a walk and keep track of how many you see.
Tuesday 25 Plan an outing to a free outdoor concert or exhibit.
Wednesday 26 Give your child a hug.
Thursday 27 Plant a flower or some herbs together.
Friday 28 Go to a ball game together.
Saturday 29 Do a puzzle together.
Sunday 30 Tell your child that you love him or her.
Epigenetic: Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes
Your ancestors’ lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.
Once nurture seemed clearly distinct from nature. Now it appears that our diets and lifestyles can change the expression of our genes. How? By influencing a network of chemical switches within our cells collectively known as the epigenome. This new understanding may lead us to potent new medical therapies. Epigenetic cancer therapy, for one, already seems to be yielding promising results.
Non-Touching Sexual Abuse
Non-touching sexual abuse is when someone shows a child movies, pictures or Internet sites with pornography. When they expose their private body parts to a child. Non-touching sexual abuse is also when someone asks a child to pose for a picture without their clothes on, in a sexual way that makes a child feel uncomfortable, or when someone takes a child’s picture while they’re doing something sexual. The abuser could encourage the child to watch or listen to people who are engaging in sexual acts, or could want to watch the child undress or bathe. Sexual harassment is sexual abuse. By teasing a child or causing the child to have uncomfortable feelings about their body or certain clothes, by calling a child bad names. The child might be afraid to tattle, or they might want the abuser to think the harassment doesn’t matter. It is important to believe and listen to the child if they disclose. Do not over react, stay calm and get the details with no leading questions. You can say tell me what happened? Many times this behavior, also known as the grooming process, leads to touching and sexual abuse. #childsexualabuse #preventchildsexualabuse
Protective Behaviours WA (Inc) – Contact Us
Protective Behaviours WA is Western Australia’s leading prevention education organisation working in WA and Internationally to prevent child abuse.
Our programs seek to prevent child abuse by providing greater awareness and understanding; as well as providing the tools and strategies for individuals, organisations, parents, families and communities to address and deal with these issues. Our strong and specialised service provides a dynamic professional response to child protection.
- “Those are my Private Parts” – How do we talk to our children about sexual abuse? What can parents and caregivers say to prevent child sexual abuse? In a society that spends more funding dollars on intervention instead of prevention, the author has found a simple yet ingenious way to answer those questions. Her book is illustrated with child-friendly drawings in primary colors. The text carries short rhythms with great messages. Every educator and caregiver, as well as children’s advocacy centers, should have a copy of this book as a tool to empower children. Written by Diane Hansen
Help save your child from abuse
- Let your child take small risks so that they develop problem-solving and conflict-management skills.
- Teach your child that if they don’t feel safe, they have the right to do something about it.
- Encourage them to discuss and express their feelings.
- Help your child learn how to identify their body’s early-warning signs for feeling unsafe.
- Develop a shared language around safety, e.g. Safety = choice + control + time limit.
- Help your child develop a network of trusted adults they can talk about anything to.
- Practise “What if…” scenarios. Ask “What would you do if someone gave you a present and told you to keep it a secret?”
- Develop an expectation that secrets can always be shared with someone we trust.
- Use the correct terminology for all body parts and avoid “nicknames” or “cute” names for the private parts of the body. Reinforce that children own the whole of their body and no one should touch their private parts (those covered by bathers) and also their mouth and they shouldn’t touch anyone else’s.
- Teach about personal space and let children decide themselves how they want to express physical affection. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss anyone.
- Everyone’s Got A Bottom – by Tess Rowley, publisher Family Planning Queensland, reading age 3-8 years.
- Jasmine’s Butterflies – by Justine O’Malley, publisher Justine O’Malley, reading age 2-8 years.
- Sam’s Hats – by Amber Fabry, publisher Sinclair Publishing Group, reading age 3-6 years.
- Sarah’s Secret – by Sonya Kupfer, publisher NooBee publishing.
- Some Parts Are Not For Sharing – by Julie Federico, publisher Tate Publishing.
- Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept – by Jayneen Sanders, publisher Upload Publishing, reading age 3-12 years.
- Those Are My Private Parts – by Diane Hansen, publisher Empowerment Productions.
Those are MY Private Parts by Diane Hansen is a great book for young children that has pictures children have drawn and puts it into terms kids can understand, my daughter just turned three and we read this book to help her understand.
What is MOPS?
MOPS is a grassroots movement that believes moms are world influencers.
We also believe that incubating hearts and giving just-because-hugs can change the course of history. That’s why we connect moms all over the world to a community of women, in their own neighborhoods, who meet together to laugh, cry and embrace the journey of motherhood. MOPS groups are rallying women to be more honest, to feel more equipped and to find our identity by journeying along side one another.
We are moms, and we believe that better moms make a better world.
Why Do I Need to Talk to My Children About Sexual Abuse?
Keeping Children Safe From Sexual Abuse
As child advocates, we at VOICE Today ask you to take a stand with us against this horrific evil. Be trained, alert and have the courage to intervene when a child is in danger. Understand that child sexual abuse is a crime. VOICE Today is breaking the silence and cycle of child sexual abuse worldwide through The VOICE Movement, Prevention, and Healing programs for abuse survivors. Child Sexual Abuse is a silent epidemic. Join the Movement and help us break the cycle!
Buy Those are MY Private Parts at Voice Today
by Diane Hansen (Empowerment Productions, 2005)
Parents and care-givers can use this read-aloud rhyme as a tool to teach children sexual abuse prevention and empower their young children to say NO. Appropriate for ages 4-8.