We teach our children to scream, yell, kick, bite and claw at a stranger who tries to take them. We teach them to stand up for themselves when someone bullies them. But when it comes to someone touching them inappropriately, they often quietly go along and we find out after it’s happened that it happened.
As parents, it is our job to protect our children from harm. There are times we can’t be present and then it is our job to teach our children how to protect themselves. One way we can do this is by teaching them how to stop someone who tries to sexually abuse them.
The first step is to ensure your child understands that it is not acceptable for people to touch them in inappropriate places and/or in inappropriate ways. Children need to understand there is no reason for teachers, friends, neighbors, relatives, coaches, friends’ parents or anyone else to touch them on their genitals, butts, breasts, etc.
The next step is to teach them not to accept being touched that way. Teach that it is perfectly acceptable to remove someone’s hand from those areas and say “please don’t touch me there.” Teach them that it’s also perfectly acceptable to slap someone’s hand away and say “stop”, “no”, or some other clear statement that that touch is not welcome.
For many kids, the issue is that they are taught to respect their elders, or respect people in authority over them, such as coaches or teachers. While you definitely need to teach them to respect these people, you also need to teach them when it’s ok to disrespect them.
Your child needs to know that his or her body is his or her own body, and that only your child has the authority to touch it or not touch it, and to tell others when they can or cannot touch it. Therefore, if a teacher or coach tries to touch them, they have the right to say no. And that is not disrespect.
Teach your child that someone touching your child is being disrespectful, and that a person who disrespects them that way does not deserve respect. Make sure your child understands that if they are accused of disrespect, disobedience or something similar in a situation like this, you will back them up 100% and that they will not be punished for it. Teach them the difference between disrespect and defending yourself.
It’s also a good idea to teach them what kinds of situations they should avoid. While it is never a child’s fault when they are sexually abused, we can take steps to help them avoid it. Teach them not to go into the home of a neighbor that you don’t know, and to avoid being along with adults – such as going into a bedroom or bathroom with a family friend, relative, or a friend’s parent – when it’s not necessary.
Teach them, as well, to avoid known sex offenders and sexual predators. Don’t make it a secret. Use the various websites that will show you all the sex offenders and predators that live near you or your child’s school, and show your children their pictures. Make your child familiar with what those offenders look like so that your child can give them a very wide berth. There are some parents who feel embarrassed at the thought that their child might give a sex offender a wide berth and maybe even say something about the sex offender, such as telling a friend “He’s a very bad man, we need to stay away from him.” Don’t feel that way! Sex offenders are put on these public lists for that reason – so that parents and children can be aware that this person has committed a crime. While some of them may have been put on there for reasons other than crimes involving children or for seemingly innocent reasons (such as a person who had an underage significant other and was convicted of a sex crime for consensual sex), there are plenty who did commit sex crimes involving children – and keeping your children away from them is vital. Plus, if a sex offender is aware that his or her neighbors and the children are aware of what they’ve done and who they are, if they have any notion of continuing their criminal life, they’ll likely think twice and at the very least, the children in your neighborhood will be safer.
Teach your children who the sex offenders are, and be proud if you hear your child tell a new friend to the neighborhood that they need to stay away from them.
Teach them, as well, that if they see something being done to another child, that it’s all right to stick up for the other child, and to report what they’ve seen to a trusted adult – whether that’s you, a teacher, or a bus driver even. Everyone – children and adults alike – can stand together to stop a child from being abused.
Keep communication open, as well. Don’t have just one conversation, or only adult-directed discussions. Let your child know that any time they have questions or concerns, you are open to listening and helping them find answers. No matter how minor or major their questions may be, take the time to answer them. Look answers up with them if you don’t already know the answer yourself.
As with drugs, sex, or anything else important, discussions about inappropriate touching or sexual abuse need to be ongoing and often. Never think you’ve covered everything – there will always be something more to discuss.