The statistics are alarming: childhood sexual abuse (CSA) affects 1 in 5 children before the age of 18 and over 90% of the time, the abuser is a relative or someone in the family’s inner circle of trust.
This is not okay.
I want to help parents talk to their kids about CSA. I’ve had several friends ask me “What if this happens to one of my kids?” or “How can I talk to my child about this?” I’ve asked myself those same questions. I’ve been there. Here are a few suggestions; it doesn’t have to be as awkward as you think.
1. Talk to your kids on their level. I have a different conversation with Sam (age 12) than I do with Faith (age 5). With Sam, I feel comfortable naming body parts. We talk about sex and he also took a Family Life and Sexual Health class in fifth grade where he learned a “crap-ton about sex”. These were his exact words. I know, I can not believe it either. I am still in shock. With Faith, I say “private parts” and “bottom”. I am not quite ready to call the parts by their proper names with her. If you are comfortable doing that with your kids, then by all means, do it. The main thing is to not be uncomfortable when you talk about it because they will be able to sense that. Use the language that you are comfortable with now and that you think they will understand. As they get older, you can change the language that you use.
My conversation with Faith went something like this:
Me: *waits for Faith to mention some “private part” so I can ease into the conversation.*
Faith: Hey, Momma, wanna see my booty!? *Shakes her booty at me.*
Me: *trying not to laugh* Hey princess, that reminds me, you know that those private parts that you’re supposed to keep covered with your underwear belong to you, right?
Me: And no one else is supposed to touch them, right? No grown-ups, no older kids. Maybe if you have a boo-boo and I need to put on some medicine or a doctor need to look at them – that might be okay but we still need to ask your permission first, okay?
Me: You know that you can tell me anything, right? And you don’t need to keep any secrets from Mommy because I love you no matter what.
Faith: I know! *kiss*
2. Have short conversations often. Don’t just talk about it once and think you are good. Just like we remind our kids to look both ways before crossing the street and to wear their bicycle helmet – you keep reminding them because you love them and you want to protect them. The first time that I talked to Sam about abuse was a little more difficult than talking to Faith, mainly because I had to change the subject to bring it up. Like I mentioned before, he has apparently completed some sort of master level sex-ed course and thinks that he knows everything. I know that he does not know everything and I can’t leave the conversations up to his teachers and classmates. Sometimes I am going to have to be the one to bring it up – that is the hardest part, the rest of the conversation isn’t so bad. When Sam and I talked about abuse that first time, I knew that a short conversation could potentially prevent a lifetime of hurt. We talked about sexual abuse and also physical and emotional abuse. I defined what abuse is and gave him examples of each kind. I asked what he thought and let him ask questions so that it was more of a conversation and less of a lecture.
3. Be your child’s Safe Person. Connect with them on an emotional level. I think this gets harder as the kids get older. Remember when they were little? They would fall and get hurt and then they would run to you to make them feel better. Or maybe you had to go to them and pick them up and tell them “Mommy/Daddy’s got you now. You’re going to be okay.” When they get older they don’t fall down as much – their hurts are on the inside. We have to be intentional about having conversations and finding out what is going on inside of them. We need to be a safe place for them so that they will still run to us when their feelings are hurt and we can still hold them and tell them that it is going to be okay. My hope is that having the conversation and raising awareness will help prevent CSA but if it should happen; children need to know that they can tell someone. If you are ready to talk to your kids about CSA, I am sharing a link to a great tool from the UK that I found while I was doing research for my children’s book.
Feel free to comment or send me an e-mail! I would love your feedback!