Thoughtful Parenting: Talking to your child about sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is scary. It thrives on silence and shame. To keep kids safe, we must break through the barrier of discomfort and talk about it. Normalizing conversation about sexual abuse is key to prevention and makes it more difficult for the crime to exist in the shadows.
According to the Committee for Children, child sexual abuse in the U.S. is prevalent and cuts across racial and socioeconomic lines. One in four girls and one in 20 boys report being sexually abused before age 18. The highest percentage of sexual abuse victims is younger than 9. In approximately 90 percent of reported cases, sexually abused children know the person abusing them, making them less likely to speak up.
Since 1979, the CFC has been dedicated to fostering the safety and well-being of children. Now, they are introducing the Hot Chocolate Talk, an initiative that teaches parents what to say and do to protect kids from predators. While the Hot Chocolate Talk centers on the important and potentially uncomfortable conversation of sexual abuse, the CFC encourages families to talk about this challenging issue in a warm, caring atmosphere.
Have conversations about sexual abuse during routine, everyday moments when you and your child are relaxed. The goal of the conversation is safety. Just as you remind your child of other safety rules — wear your helmet, use the crosswalk, don’t pet dogs you don’t know— reminders about safety from sexual predators should also be frequent.
Experts recommend teaching kids the correct, biological names for body parts. You can discuss body parts while your toddler is taking a bath or getting ready for bed. You can read books about safe touch or ask about the nature of physical exchanges between characters in any story — when they hug, shake hands, kiss goodbye or give a pat on the back. When your kids leave your house or when you leave your kids, it’s a good time to remind them of general safety rules including those about private parts.
Rules for children of all ages
• Never keep secrets about touching.
• Always ask the adult in charge if it’s okay for another adult to give you something or take you somewhere.
• It’s never your fault if someone touches your private body parts.
• Tell an adult if someone makes you feel uncomfortable and keep telling until someone believes you.
Talking points for kids 5 and younger
• “A bigger person should never touch your private parts except to keep you healthy.”
• “Never keep secrets about touching.”
Talking points for kids age 6 to 9
• “No one should ever touch your private body parts except to keep you healthy.”
• “You shouldn’t touch other people’s private body parts, either.”
Talking points for kids age 9 and older
• “Another person should never touch or ask to see your private body parts except to keep you healthy.”
• “You should never touch or be made to look at another person’s private body parts.”
• “No one should take photos of your private body parts or show you photos of other people’s private parts.”
In your conversations, practice safety scenarios and encourage your child to apply the Three Rs to “what if” scenarios.
• Recognize: Is this situation safe? Does someone’s behavior break a rule?
• Report: Always tell if someone breaks a safety rule.
• Refuse: Say “no” to any situation or touch that you don’t like or want.
Visit Hot Chocolate Talk through the CFC website at cfchildren.org for additional resources on talking to your child about sexual abuse.
Deirdre Pepin is the resource development and public relations coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services. If you have questions about your young child’s development, contact Lindsey Garey, Horizons’ Early Intervention Coordinator, at 970.871.8558.
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