How to Talk to Your Child about Sexual Abuse
As adults we have a great responsibility to keep our children safe. We talk stranger danger and how to run away. We reinforce fire safety drills and the ever-memorable “STOP-DROP-ROLL” if you were to catch on fire. We duck in hallways for tornado drills and stay silent during lock-downs. We learn all of this with one goal in mind: to keep our bodies safe. We may never experience a dangerous stranger or a building on fire but we teach these safety rules just in case. We’d rather have the information and never need it…rather than need it and not have it, right?
Most children will never experience sexual abuse yet for the 1/4 girls and 1/6 boys who will be victimized before their 18th birthday (Source 1), this conversation will make all the difference. At Childhood Victories, we teach students about sexual abuse from pre-school all the way up until senior year. Our curriculum normalizes the conversation in school and empowers children to use their voice. And while we are incredibly proud of the work we do, we also know the conversation needs to continue long after we leave a school. We wanted to share 5 ways to talk to your child about sexual abuse:
Begin conversations about “personal body safety” early and often
Having safety talks normalizes the conversation early on. Break down the barrier that so many of us were taught to put up in childhood: talking about our bodies and safety is taboo. If a child is never taught to be ashamed of their body and asking for help, they feel more comfortable having these conversations.
Explain certain parts of the body are private and personal
Let your child know that no one should touch private body parts unless it is to keep them clean and healthy. Reinforce this rule in the bath and shower, during diaper changes and potty training, and in the doctor’s office. This lets children know that while private body parts are personal, however, there are times very select people are allowed to help.
Teaching proper terminology of the body
It is recommended that parents teach children the anatomically correct words for private body parts. This makes it easier for a child to descriptively communicate if someone has ever touched them inappropriately. This also helps if they ever have pain or an infection…they can describe exactly what hurts!
Discuss the difference between safe and unsafe secrets
Safe secrets often come with an expiration date and involve fun, kindness, or a happy surprise. A surprise party is revealed on a birthday or celebration, holiday or birthday presents are opened with loved ones, and that homemade craft a child makes for their parents at school is shown when arrive home covered in glitter and say, “CLOSE YOUR EYES, I MADE YOU SOMETHING!” Unsafe secrets hurt; They can bring up feel fear, embarrassment, or concern for the safety of a child or their friend. Let your child know that no secret is too big or scary for them to share with you.
Encourage them to say “NO” when in an uncomfortable situation
Children are often shamed for saying no. “Talking back” or being defiant is closely associated with NO. If a child has been taught that “no” is disrespectful with no room for nuance, they will most likely hesitate to say no to an abuser. Teaching them it’s okay to be assertive to older kids and grown-ups who touch them inappropriately increases the likelihood of a disclosure to a trusted adult.
Ultimately, we want children to know that their body belongs to them. That no person is allowed to touch them in an inappropriate way or force them to keep unsafe secrets. We want children to be empowered in ways us adults were not. This conversation may begin in school with presenters like us, but to truly change the course for the next generation we need it to go far beyond school walls.
source: U.S. Department of Justice statistics (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor and welcome to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you for being here with me today. I’m in a different environment. This is my studio where I record all my curriculum and I was recording some new things and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to create a podcast and a weekly video for you.
Today’s message is very important. It’s really on parenting, specifically through the lens of a survivor. Most of you know my story by now, but I am a survivor of sexual abuse and I always get this question from parents. “Victor, how do you talk to your child about this difficult topic at home where it’s real?” It’s one thing to go into a school, talk to a group of kids, but it’s another thing to bring it home to your own children.
When I developed my curriculum on safe touch and unsafe touch, I came up with a very easy way to talk about sexual abuse specifically to kindergarten, first, and second graders. And I came up with this term connected to Tic-Tac-Toe and I wrote a song called Tic-Tac-No-Go©, which specifically says that if anyone touches you in these places, say no, go tell someone you know and trust. And I keep repeating that over and over again. And they know that if anyone touches them in those areas that it’s unsafe and they need to speak up.
Well, I have three children. My oldest is now a seventh grader. I have a sixth grader and I have an amazing fourth grader. I love them. They are my life. I have been teaching them about sexual abuse awareness since they were little kids.
I know talking about these kinds of topics is not easy, but I believe it is so important to have the conversation just to raise their awareness. It doesn’t have to be that deep. It doesn’t have to be that detailed. I’ll give you a specific example. When my children were little, I would give them a bath, I would repeat that, “No one touches your private body parts unless it is to keep you clean and healthy. Mommy and daddy can keep you clean and the doctor can keep you healthy.” I would repeat the Tic-Tac-No-Go© concept, go tell someone you know and trust, and this is how simple it has become.
My daughter who’s now a teenager sometimes sleeps overnight at her friend’s house. I have found a balance in terms of how much I allow my children to be part of. You know, because I don’t want abuse or anything that’s hurtful happening to my children. We want to protect our children. But you also to get to a place where you trust your child by educating them. So when they go out there into the world and because they’re not always going to be with us, they can have the tools to stay safe.
So we do the best we can. And so my daughter, every time I take her to a sleepover, I specifically give her a hug because I love her with all my heart. She’s my life. And all I say to her, “Mimmi, remember Tic-Tac-No-Go.” That’s it. And she looks at me and she makes the connection and says, “Dad, I got it.” She understands that means that no one touches her inappropriately.
And now I’m teaching her to understand this. It’s not always about her. So when she’s at these sleepovers I want her to help her friends and be more aware of her surroundings. So I believe with this education and by taking our heads out of the sand and being real with our kids at some level, we call it balance, that we can give them specific tools to stay safe.
Simple…less is more. I want her to know and think like this, “I am going to have fun at this party, but I’m also going to be aware and if anyone gets too close to me and oversteps their boundaries, I have the right to say no and I can call home.”
I hope this makes sense. This is a simple strategy but it’s also more than that. It’s just saying that we must have these conversations with our kids, and less is definitely more, and balance is really really important. I want to thank you for joining me this this week. Please share this with your family and friends and your fellow parents out there, and let’s keep our children safe and ultimately everyone, parents and children have the right to be seen and heard. Thank you so much. Have a great, great day.