The Conversation You Need to Have
Recently, the media has been filled with buzzwords and hashtags– from #TimesUp to #MeToo to #NeverAgain– it is very likely that your children (especially if they are school-aged) have heard some pretty upsetting things. It’s just as likely that they have questions.
While your initial instinct may be to shield them from any disturbing news, consider using the opportunity to engage in a meaningful exchange, one that will address their questions and alleviate their fears. Sounds reasonable on the outside, doesn’t it? But once you are face-to-face with that wide-eyed innocence, it can be absolutely heartbreaking to think of shattering that protective bubble of a trustworthy, fairytale world you’ve so carefully crafted for them.
Time to face this parenting thing head on and do what you need to do to really keep them safe, because no matter what, the bottom line is: The Kids Come First. Always.
Make these difficult subjects a part of the bigger, ongoing conversation on safety. And start young, very young. If you are open with your communication, teaching them things like the names for body parts and letting them understand which are private, you will have an easier time discussing more specific issues. Allow children to care for their own bodies when washing and using the toilet so they don’t need to depend on adult involvement when they are out.
Teach young children the difference between types of “secrets.” Keeping a temporary secret so they don’t ruin a surprise birthday gift is OK, but permanent secrets like not telling parents about someone inappropriately touching them is Never OK.
Stories from testimonies against Larry Nassar left us shaking our heads. How did the parents not see the red flags? Some girls even tried to expose the abuse, but were not believed by their own parents. When your children want to talk to you, take them seriously, make the time, and pay attention to what they say and what they don’t say. Stay calm, and get all the facts. Be sure they know they are not to blame.
Conversely, be careful not to overreact before having clear information. A Staten Island mom told me her kindergartener said she didn’t want to go to the school nurse anymore because she didn’t like it when the nurse touched her. Immediately, the mom’s reaction was one of fear. “What do you mean? Where did she touch you?” “I bumped my head at school and it hurt when she touched the bump,” was the reply. It’s always best to flesh out the details before rushing to judgment.
According to the World Health Organization, children rarely disclose sexual abuse immediately after the event. Disclosure tends to be a process rather than a single episode and is often initiated following a physical complaint or a change in behavior.
We are part of a society that teaches our children to be obedient and respectful, which can put them in an awkward position. Tell your children it’s OK to say no, and support them if they are uncomfortable with hugging or kissing people—even so-called “trusted” friends and relatives! You can allow them to wave, smile, give a High 5 or fist bump instead. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network cites an unbelievable statistic: 93% of children who have been sexually assaulted knew their perpetrator. 93%! Children must know to trust their inner voice, and that they can always count on you as a protector of their safety. Again, the bottom line is always: The Kids Come First.
Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse
The following may indicate sexual abuse and should not be ignored:
• Unexplained pain, itching, redness, or bleeding in the genital area
• Difficulty and/or pain when sitting or walking
• Increased nightmares or bedwetting
• Withdrawn behavior or appearing to be in a trance
• Angry outbursts or sudden mood swings
• Loss of appetite or difficulty swallowing
• Anxiety or depression
• Sudden, unexplained avoidance of certain people or places
• Sexual knowledge, language, or behavior that is unusual for the child’s age
Resources for more information and help:
Child Welfare Information Gateway
www.childwelfare.gov Live Chat between 10am-5pm • 800.394.3366 between 9:30am-5:30pm • To report abuse: 1.800.4AChild (1.800.422.4453)
National Sexual Assault Hotline
www.rainn.org 24/7 Live Chat • 800.656.HOPE
Prevent Child Abuse New York
www.preventchildabuseny.org • 1.800.CHILDREN or 518.880.3592
National Child Abuse Hotline
www.childhelp.org • 480.922.8212
New York State Office of Children & Family Services
800.342.3720 or 518.474.8740
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
703.224.2150 • 24/7 Hotline: 800.THE.LOST
• Keep an open, calm, we-can-talk-about-anything attitude with your children so they will always be comfortable telling you what’s going on in their lives.
• Teach them to be independent so they don’t rely on other adults for personal caretaking.
• Listen carefully to be sure you have the facts correct.
• Never blame the child.