It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children from Abuse- Part I
I hate to break this to you in case you didn’t already know it but strangers are not the main cause of harm to children. While we talk to children about “stranger danger,” as parents, we sometimes fail to talk to them about ways to protect themselves from people they come across in their daily lives who may be harmful to them. Statistically, children are much more likely to be harmed by someone they know. In cases of sexual abuse, for example, 90% of child victims know the perpetrator in some way^. In 1994, Dr. Gene Abel, conducted a study of 453 pedophiles. In total, those pedophiles admitted to over 67,000 victims, averaging out to 148 victims per perpetrator^^. In my own experience, I have seen that most perpetrators have multiple victims and that sexual abuse is much less likely to be reported and prosecuted in the United States. In this post, I am focusing on sexual abuse since that is the most under-reported of the abuses, however, you can use many of the same rules for neglect and physical abuse. Rather than encouraging fear, I would like to tell you some ways you can prepare your children in case anyone ever does try to inappropriately touch or discipline them. In my next post, I will tell you about signs you can look for to prevent abuse before it occurs.
Tips for teaching your young children about abuse prevention:
1. Talk with your young child about the rules about private parts, namely that: private parts are the parts covered by your bathing suit; the only people who can touch private parts are parents when you are taking a bath or helping to change a diaper or going potty, and doctors during an exam.
2. Define other types of abuse as well: if someone hits you and leaves a mark, or does not take care of you when they are supposed to- like a babysitter who would leave a child home alone, then come back before the parents get home. Tell your child that no one has permission to hit them even if they say they do, and that no one is supposed to leave them home alone.
3. Teach children that if anyone tries to do anything you have just taught them is abusive they should: 1. say no, 2. get away, 3. tell someone (list a few people it is okay to tell).
4. Teach kids that people who would try to touch private parts, or hit, or neglect kids can be tricky. If someone says they are going to hurt someone else if you tell something, don’t be tricked! Tell!
5. Teach children to listen to the “uh oh” feeling. If anyone they know gives them an “uh oh” feeling (usually you feel it in your tummy, throat or head) then instruct your child to tell you as soon as possible.
6. If you see your child acting strange around another adults and it makes you uncomfortable, when they are away from that person, gently bring up that you noticed they seemed different and get curious about why that might be.
7. Encourage your child to build a vocabulary for feelings and talk about feelings in your family. If you have difficulty with this, remember our affirmation for last week was: My children give me constant opportunities to learn and grow. See, you have a learning, growing opportunity right here.
8. Keep an open dialogue with children about okay and not okay touches. Allow your child to speak up if they do not want to hug or kiss someone and back them up if they say or use body language to show that they do not want someone touching them. Give them alternatives to help them problem solve like a fist bump, a high-five, or a hand shake, or if you find yourself witnessing your child being uncomfortable with a person trying to touch them, you can say something like, “Jake’s not quite ready for a hug, how about a high-five?”
Watch the language and tone that you use during your conversations with kids about this topic. Children can misinterpret a very serious parent for an angry parent and feel like they are in trouble if you take the conversation too seriously. Keep the conversation light. Remember Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood? If you don’t remember him, think of a gentle teacher you have met and emulate them. Just like talking to kids about “stranger danger” this is not a one-time conversation. Check in periodically with kids about what they would do if anyone ever tried to touch them.
Do you have questions about protecting your children from abuse? Please feel free to ask them in the comments section.
- Beyond “Stranger Danger” (mommeetsblog.wordpress.com)
- Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age (help4yourfamily.com)
- Teaching Young Children About “Stranger Danger” (help4yourfamily.com)
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Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Happy Parent Tip #1
- Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager
- Naming Patterns Changes Patterns
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
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