We hear the statistics, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually violated by their eighteenth birthday. It’s enough to cause panic. We’re tempted to hide under the bed or race for the closet, dragging our children with us. Maybe if we hide from childhood sexual abuse, it won’t see us.
Fear can paralyze. This is a real threat in the world, but there are steps you can do to stand up to the threat and protect your children, and to help them protect themselves.
Teach your children the proper names for their body parts.
Use bath time as teachable moments. Don’t make up silly names for their penis or vagina. This equips your children and informs them. Perpetrators target clueless children.
Instruct your children that no one is allowed to touch them where their swimsuit covers,
… and that they are not allowed to touch others where their swimsuit covers. Those areas are special and private. Calmly explain to them that they should tell you if someone touches them (no matter whom) or wants them to do the touching. This teaches your children appropriate boundaries and red flags. Perpetrators avoid knowledgeable children.
Empower your children to take ownership over their own bodies.
Don’t force your little ones to hug and kiss people if they don’t want to. Help them understand that their bodies – hugs and kisses – belong to them and are theirs to give. Children need to be taught to be respectful, but that they can say “no.” We spend so much time teaching our kids to be obedient; we forget to teach them that there is a time to be disobedient. Most often perpetrators are authority figures in our children’s lives, people they are taught to obey. Our children need to know how, and when, to say “no.” This helps your children feel empowered to make the right choice. Perpetrators avoid empowered children.
Discourage secrets in your family.
“We don’t keep secrets in our family. You can tell me anything.” Instead, encourage surprises. “We’re going to have a surprise party for grandma. We’re not going to tell her about it until we have the party. Then you can tell grandma everything.” Childhood sexual abuse relies on secrets. A perpetrator must convince your child to keep a secret in order to accomplish their goal. This creates open communication. Perpetrators avoid children who won’t keep a secret.
We can’t be with our children, every second of every day. And we can’t hide them in a closet away from the world’s dangers. But we can be wise, fearless mothers who teach our children well, empowering our children to understand that they can talk to us about anything.
Carolyn Byers Ruch of the Founder and Executive Director at Rise and Shine Movement.