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For most of us, as parents, we would protect our children
with our lives. From early mobility we are teaching our kids appropriate
responses to danger. However, many of us are at a loss when it comes to
protecting our kids where they are most vulnerable. I do my best to teach my
children safety and good habits, but I don’t spend a lot of time considering
ways that they could get hurt. I do however, struggle with a deep fear of my
children being abused, be it physical, emotional, and especially sexual. My fear
is that I won’t be able to protect them from those who would prey on their
vulnerability. I fear that I won’t see the signs or that they won’t come and
tell me. I fear that I won’t teach them what they need to know for abuse
prevention and handling.

I have these fears but I am learning to choose not to live
within them. Instead, I am learning to face them, for myself and my children; I
want to equip myself and my children.

The things that I want to share have come from both my
personal experience and from educating myself on how to equip and protect my
children. I’ll just be honest and say that I have a hard time tackling this
subject and I have been grappling with my fears as I write. I also want to be clear,
I am sharing as a mom; I’m not an expert or an educator on this and I don’t
have all the answers. I share this because I know that there are many who
experience my fear and like I, struggle to find a balance of not transferring
fear to our children while protecting them in the best way. I also share this
because I know that for some parents, they are unprepared and so miss warning
signs.  My hope is that in sharing this,
you will find some tools within it to assist you in a proactive approach to
protecting your children.

  1. Correct Terminology
    of the human sexual/reproductive anatomy
    . Our kids need to know the correct
    labels of ALL their body parts including those that are private. This makes
    sense on so many levels. I don’t have a fully labeled diagram teaching every
    single body part to my girls but they are progressively adding to their
    vocabulary. They learned that they had a vulva at the same time they learned
    they had arms…maybe before. As I wash their bodies, from their first bath, I
    start teaching them their body parts as I wash it. As they grow and learn more
    body parts, more terms are added. So, while they learned about elbows and
    ankles, they learned that inside their vulva was their vagina.  Even health-wise my girls need to be able to
    tell me exactly where is bothering them. It’s not about cutesy words so that no
    one is uncomfortable just in case they talk about their body, it’s about having
    a clear understanding of their bodies so that they can explain what is going
    on. If you aren’t comfortably familiar
    with the words, it can be really helpful to take some time to learn them yourself. See link for basic male and female anatomy .
  2. Teach your child
    appropriate touch
    . We need to demonstrate “good touch” through cuddling,
    hugging and all the lovely ways that we bond with our children. Our kids learn
    about hugs and kisses that are ok from us.
    We also talk to our kids about how they should be touched when they are
    being wiped after using the toilet, being bathed, or dressed. We talk to them
    about the way that we help them do any of those things being how it is
    appropriate. We also remind them that if there is ever a need for someone else
    to help them, they need to help just like we do and they can tell them that.
  3. Respect your child’s
    space and displays of affection.
    I tend to err on the side that if any
    touch makes a child uncomfortable, it is inappropriate. How many times do people
    beg small children for a hug goodbye? It is very possible and acceptable for a
    child to simply say “goodbye”.  We have
    decided that we won’t encourage or force our kids to hug anyone. We also
    respect their wishes with pictures and if they don’t wish to have their picture
    taken with someone, they don’t. Does this disappoint people? Yes. Does it hurt
    their feelings? Unfortunately. We will take the trade off that our kids are
    learning that their bodies and affections are their own. They need to be respectful
    but they have every right to refuse hugs, tickles, cuddles, etc. They are
    learning that they are not responsible for any one else’s desire for affection
    and that they can say no to any touch, even appropriate, if they wish.  We also show respect of space and privacy by
    asking for it ourselves and by giving it to them when they ask.
  4. Respect your child’s NO.
    Our kids learn that their NO is to be respected from us. They also need to
    learn that NO isn’t always verbal. Even in play, if one of the kids says NO or
    STOP, we do so immediately even if they are playing. If they say NO to a hug,
    we don’t give them one. They are learning that those are powerful words and
    ones that they are allowed to expect an immediate response to. We have also
    taught them that when someone says NO or STOP to them, they also need to
    respect that.
  5. You are your child’s
    voice, you are equipping them, you are not placing responsibility on them.
    Especially
    when they are young, don’t be afraid to speak up for your child. Demonstrate
    how they can politely let someone know that they don’t like something, teach
    them the words by using them. If your child seems uncomfortable, take the
    opportunity to ask them about it, try to express their feelings without
    projecting your feelings on them. As young children, they are learning how to
    deal with situations, they are not responsible for them.
  6. Watch your words.
    This goes with the last point. It’s pretty common to tell children, “don’t talk to strangers.”
    “Don’t let anyone touch your privates” “Don’t keep secrets.”.  But then we also teach our children things like, “Don’t touch the knives.”  “don’t
    play in the toilet.” “Don’t hit your sister.”
    So if ever they don’t do what we say, they haven’t listened or obeyed
    our request. In their minds they have done something they shouldn’t have, making
    it even more difficult to tell us.  I
    think that we need to change how we word our safety talk to put the blame and
    responsibility where it belongs while still teaching them safety
    . Maybe
    we need to say something like, “ Strangers shouldn’t talk to you because they
    know better. If they try, you come right to Mama.” “No one has the right to
    touch your privates places and if they try, you can say “No” and tell mama” “No
    one should ever touch you in a way that you don’t like.” I choose to give them permission rather than command by saying that
    they can always tell me if something happens.
  7. Place the blame where
    it belongs
    . I cringe to think of the times that Aneliese has come to me and
    said that so and so hit her and my first response has been, “What did you do
    that they would hit you”. I cringe because it is the wrong placement of blame;
    through that interaction I am teaching her that if someone hurts her it is
    because she did something. Of course as children play, that often can be the
    case, but my very wording is instilling in her that it is her responsibility
    that she was hurt.  I’ve realized that I
    need to always acknowledge that someone else has done wrong or acted
    inappropriately before dealing with her response. The opposite is also true, if
    they have behaved wrongly, that gets addressed before the response of another.
    Our kids need to know that if they are abused in anyway, it is the other person
    who bears the guilt, NOT them. Kids need to have this instilled aside from any
    possible abuse situation so that they know that they will not be blamed.
  8. Be a safe place.
    I’m learning that it is really hard work to be a safe place to my children. If
    I ever hope for them to come to me with the hard things and the things that
    cause them deep confusion and shame, I must first be a place for them to come to with
    the less significant things.

I
realize that while my thoughts here are in the context of abuse, they
relate in many other ways to the holistic development of
children.
Something that Dan and I often remind each other is that as we are
proactive
and intentional about offering our children the love, affirmation, and
strength
in such a way that is clearly the opposite of abuse, we are equipping
them. Can
we protect them from everything? No.  I
wish it were different. In part two, I will be talking more about the initial
response to abuse.

As always, I welcome interaction
through comments and questions; I hope that you will join the conversation. I would
just ask that because due to the nature of the topic, that you would choose
your words with sensitivity and care.

Part Two: Your Response when your child has been abused