AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S, LPC
(Editor’s Note: An Ounce of Prevention is part of an ongoing series about child abuse prevention and response. The lessons mentioned in this article are included in the Child Protection curriculum schools and parishes throughout the Diocese of Jackson offer to both children and parents. To find out more about the Child Protection program and see sample lessons, visit the Office of Child Protection on the website: https://jacksondiocese.org/offices/child-protection/)
This article will address questions about how to keep your children safe from sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is not a pleasant subject. It doesn’t rank up there with pink and blue and baby reveal parties. But, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The following are tips about how to approach the topic of safety. It doesn’t have to be awkward.
- Start the conversation about boundaries when your child is too young to dress themselves. Make it an important teaching moment. Remind your child, their body is your own and they can say who touches it. For example, when dressing a child in a bathing suit, remind the child that the part a bathing suit covers are their private parts. Reinforce this in a light hearted manner by asking, “What are your private parts?” and listen to your child’s answer. As they get older, you can refer to the private parts of their body as sacred parts. The parts reserved for the giving of life.
- When reading to your children, include books that are about speaking up and saying no. Several children’s books about privacy and boundaries are available. Don’t read them exclusively, just have them as part of the repertoire of books you read aloud together.
- Teach children the polite way of saying no to adults. For example; “No, thank you. No, I need to call my parents. No means no.” Teach them they will not be in trouble for saying no to a bad or uncomfortable request from an adult, even if it’s an authority figure or member of the family.
- Teach your child the difference between good secrets and bad secrets. No one should ever ask them to keep a secret that makes them feel bad, sad or hurt. Period. Ever. For any reason. Slipping up and telling a good secret causes little damage. Not telling a bad secret can do a lot of harm. Explain to them, when in doubt, tell.
- Teach children what it means to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel safe to them, encourage them to talk about it. Honor their feeling so they can learn to honor them too.
As your child gets older, keep the conversation open and light. Keep the door of communication open so that your child won’t hesitate to come to you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable. In doing this, you are also modeling the language of telling.
If your child can attend a class or seminar through your church, school or other familiar organization, take advantage of it. Your child will be among peers, a larger group in which to support and be supportive of healthy peer boundaries. The importance of healthy peer boundaries is as important, if not more, than teaching stranger danger.
If you, as a parent, are tempted to opt out when these classes are offered, make sure you know exactly what it is you’re opting out of. Age-appropriate conversations are an ongoing responsibility of parenting to ensure their safety. It cannot be emphasized enough, parents are responsible for the emotional, physical and psychosocial growth of their children.
As we’ve seen in the recent #metoo movement, it is never too soon or too late to learn when and how to say no to inappropriate advances and when and how to tell someone. Sooner is always better than later.
(Reba J. McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with more than 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for more than 25 years. She continues to work as a mental health consultant and freelance writer. Reba can be reached at email@example.com.)