help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

It’s Not Just Strangers- spotting potential abusers: Part II

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While 96% of all abusers are men,* and men tend to be the focus of this article, it is important that we refrain from trivializing the role of women as abusers as well.  In this article, I speak mostly about men, but the same holds true for women.  Here are some tips to spot potential perpetrators or unsafe situations:

1. Look for people who are more interested in your children than their own children.  For example, if you go to a birthday party and see the father of the birthday kid paying more attention to your child than their child, take a moment to listen to the words they are saying to your child.  Are they trying to draw your child away from the crowd?  Are they excessively flattering?  Are they trying to get your child to come for a playdate even when your child seems reluctant?

2.  Pay attention to any men who are overly willing to be available to babysit, especially if they are willing to put off other, adult activities to be more available to your child for one on one time.  This is true for teenage boys and boys or girls that you know have issues but just like to hang around with your children even though your children are significantly younger.  Kids who are developmentally younger than their chronological age will still begin sexual development at the same age and if they feel more comfortable with children their own age, they are more likely to try out sexual behavior on younger children who will let them get away with it.

3.  “Grabbers” are perpetrators that take the opportunity when it presents itself.  These are, for example, the in-home, daycare provider’s brother who came to visit for a week and was in the home when you dropped your child off.  You can protect your children from those by asking any adult who is in charge of your child to tell you if there will be any other adults around your child.  If you notice a new face when you take your child to school or child care, don’t be afraid to ask.  Just do what I do and say you are an over protective parent.  Own it 🙂

4.  “Groomers” are people who take time to get a child (and parent) comfortable with them.  They may take a long time to even begin doing anything to the child.  In the meantime, they begin to seamlessly insert themselves into the family and over time, develop a relationship with the children.  Listen to your gut if you get a feeling about someone, take a minute to ask your child and get curious about how they feel when that person is around.

5.  Be visible.  Parents who are a known presence at school and day-care are less likely to have children who are victims.  Show up unannounced at child care and for school lunches if your child’s school allows it.  Volunteer a few times a year so you get to know teachers and other school personnel and they get to know you.  Know your childcare provider and, if you do not trust his or her decision-making, get a new one.

6.  Be aware of people in your own family who you know are perpetrators.  This may sound obvious, however, I have met enough people by now who allowed their child to be around the grandparent who abused the parent, yet the parent felt if they were watchful enough, their child would not get hurt, or hoped that the perpetrator had changed enough that they would not do that to their grandchild.  Similarly, if you are a divorced parent and abuse was an issue during your marriage, or you knew that your child’s other parent was harming or neglecting the children, if possible, protect your child from being alone with that parent.  Wikipedia reports that, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that for each year between 2000 and 2005, “female parents acting alone” were most likely to be perpetrators of child abuse.”  **  If someone is a known perpetrator to you, do not allow your child to be alone with them.  Stepfathers and fathers respectively are the most likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual abuse for girls 10 and older according to childabuse.org.

7.  Listen to your child.  Children, especially young children, often disclose information that we do not catch if we are not listening.  If a child says something that causes you concern, be curious and ask them about it to clarify what they are talking about.  Sometimes because our young children are so sexually innocent, they don’t even know that there was anything out-of-order with what happened and they just tell you about it.

I want to conclude by being perfectly clear, that there is no guarantee that our children will never deal with an abusive caretaker.  However, the likelihood that a child will identify a problem to you sooner, so that you may take action immediately will be increased by talking to your child and being aware of the tricks of abusers.

Related Articles:

*http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/male-sex-offenders.html

**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_abuse#cite_ref-31

May 18, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children from Abuse- Part I

child abuse

child abuse (Photo credit: Southworth Sailor)

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.

^http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics

^^http://www.cpiu.us/statistics-2/

 

May 16, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teaching young children about “stranger danger”

Street photography - photograph of a child wat...

Street photography – photograph of a child watching children play on the grounds of Arts College at Osmania University, Hyderabad, AP – India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am writing this post in response to a post by GorillaParenting’s post, “Stranger Danger- Gorilla Parenting- Fail!”  I will re-blog it so you can see the quick video of (I assume) the writer’s daughter answering the question, “What do you do if a stranger tries to give you a piece of candy?”  Her answer is, “Say thank you.”  While this is very cute, it also raises a question posed by the blogger- how do we teach our children who is safe and who is not?

Most of us grew up hearing about stranger danger and about never talking to strangers, etc. but I think it is time for a new conversation about this topic that first acknowledges that this is a much more complex issue than we give it credit for.  We know that it is important in our lives to talk to strangers for many things.  After all, on the first day of school, your child’s new teacher is often a stranger to them but of course you want them to talk to the teacher.  At the same time, we want them to be able to identify and get away from anyone who has an intent to harm them.  So, how does one teach a young child who is and is not safe?  Here are a few tips.

1.  “Stranger Danger lessons” grow and change over a lifetime and are not a one time event.  Start this conversation with your young child by asking them if they know what strangers are, followed up by a question about what strangers look like.  You might be surprised by the response you get.  Many children know that strangers are people you do not know, but then if you ask what they look like, children sometimes feel they can give a pretty good description.  This is your opportunity to begin teaching your child about strangers and how to tell if someone is a “safe” stranger or not.  Every child will stay away from a scary guy in a dark cape hanging out in an alley- we know that, it’s the person who would try to lure your child away with kindness that we worry about.  And, of course, there is a healthy balance to be made here because we do not want children to be frightened.  I coach my own children to speak to strangers that are “helping strangers” like someone who works at the store, a police officer or firefighter.  I also tell them if they are ever lost or need help to look for a parent who has children with them that are the same age as my child.  After all, a parent with same age children is most likely to empathize with the needs of my child and to help them to get the help they need.

2.  Come up with some rules for your child about who is and is not a stranger.  When does someone become an acquaintance and does that mean you can go into their home or with them in a car?  In one of your ongoing conversations with your child, fit this in.  What do you need to know about a person for them not to be a stranger anymore?  I often would say you need to know their first and last names, where they live or work, and your mom or dad has to say they are no longer a stranger.  Even if someone is not a stranger, you can talk about whether they are okay to go with and make sure your child always knows to tell you before they go with someone.  Many families also have a code word that they use with kids so that if something ever happened where, say, the normal person was not there to get them off the bus after school, the parent would send someone to pick the child up and that person would share the code word so the child knows they are safe.

3.  Make a playful guessing game with your child when you go to the park and ask them who is a “safe” stranger and who is an “unsafe” stranger.  This will give you an opportunity to teach your child to listen to their own instincts about who is safe to talk to and what it is okay to talk to them about, and to teach them that people who look good, are not always what they appear to be.  Any stranger that tries to give a child something or tries to have a child go with them without checking with their parents or having the kids check with their parents is not okay.   You can also talk with kids about listening to the “uh oh” feeling we get around people sometimes in their tummy, heart or throat.  Tell them to check with you first before talking to a stranger (you can come up with a signal like a head nod to say it is okay also).  After a child talks to the stranger, ask them how it felt.  You can ask them if that person would have been okay to go with to check on their lost puppy (hint- the answer is always “no,” or, “only if I check with you (the parent) first.”   If kids get an “uh oh” feeling about a stranger, talk about why they think that is- was the person not listening about your child’s personal space body language (were they in your space bubble?).  Was the person asking intrusive, personal questions? Acknowledge how these things can be disturbing and help kids figure out how to address them with adults in a respectful way.

When talking to your young child about strangers, I would be sure to try to keep the conversation on the lighter, playful side since we do not want to scare them, but to also playfully fit in little tests of their knowledge.  Children love it when they know the answers to questions.  Remember too, that children love it when they know the rules about things, and, even more, they love rituals.  Create a ritual where each time you go to the park, you remind them of the rules on the way, stay on the mulched area, ask me before you run to the bathroom by yourself, ask the owner before you pet their dog, and never go anywhere with anyone or accept anything from anyone without asking first.  When they are tired of you saying the rules every time, you can make it a guessing game and they can tell you the rules.  When they consistently tell you the rules every time, they have got it and you have done the best you can do on this one.

What’s funny is that I don’t think that original video that prompted this post is a “fail” at all.  My guess, by looking at the body language of the child is that what actually happened is mom and dad thought they were asking the child about stranger danger but what the child imagined in her safe, secure little world was that a stranger presented her with candy with mom or dad watching and giving a nod, then she takes it.  So, what do you do then?  Say thank you, of course!

The real problem is that the people who most often harm children are not strangers.  Look for future posts about how to help children feel confident enough to protect themselves if someone they know ever tries to cross a boundary.

April 25, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

   

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