Addressing Sexual Assault With Your Child
Child sexual assault and body safety is a difficult but important topic to address with your children. Tuning your child into his or her body and the importance of initiating boundaries can begin as early as toddler-aged.
“There is Good Touch and There is Bad Touch”
Teach your child that good touch is touch that is invited, whereas bad touch is uninvited or unwanted touch. Examples of good touch might be holding hands with a parent crossing the street, putting an arm around a friend who is having a bad day, or giving a hug to someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Examples of bad touch would be violence like hitting, kicking or pushing or any touch that is unwanted. This can be a sensitive subject especially when it comes to encouraging kids to hug or kiss relatives and friends. It’s the classic: “Come here and give your Aunt Jane a big kiss!!” Some children are more affectionate then others but it’s important they aren’t pushed into physical contact. As a parent a polite way to handle the ‘Aunt Jane’ scenario may be to politely say: “Oh, it’s unusual for him to warm up that much right away, give it a little time and he may be ready for a high five.”
“Your Body Belongs to You”
Teach your child that his or her body isn’t any one else’s. Every single part of the body from head to toe belongs to him or her. Many times, perpetrators will use “sharing” kind of language to confuse and manipulate young children. Make it clear to your child that he or she doesn’t have to share any part of their body- even a hug or a kiss- if it doesn’t feel okay. This may also be a good time to introduce the concept of personal space and respecting other’s personal space and privacy. You can refer to private parts as “bathing suit areas” that are extra personal and private. These areas stay covered up all the time unless you are taking a bath or going to the bathroom. As your child ages, empower him/her to take care of his/her own hygiene. Of course children will still need help bathing etc., but do what you can to instill the message that he/she is in charge of what goes on with the body.
“Take Care of Your Body”
Teach your child your body has great value. In a balanced way, talk about health, good diet, exercise and good hygiene. This will tune your child in to what’s going on with her body and how she feels. Stay away from image language and value judgments as this then begs for affirmation from others- another tool perpetrators can use to gain a victim’s trust.
“Listen to Your Body”
As a parent, teach body intuition. In my work with child survivors and families, many children would describe their abuse experience as ‘scary’ or ‘icky’ or ‘wanting it to be over.’ For many survivors, the relationship they have with their body can be marked by shame, anxiety and disconnect for years to come. Teach your child that your body can teach you things. If your body feels uneasy or ‘icky’ or weird, there is probably something ‘icky’ going on. Conversely, if your body feels relaxed and normal there is probably less to worry about. Open the doors of communication. “The minute something feels off to you, go tell an adult you trust, even if you aren’t exactly sure what’s wrong.”
In closing, sexual abuse is no easy topic and one no parent wants to worry about. However, addressing the topics above provides your child with a firm body awareness foundation and can give you greater peace of mind.