This April, in honor of child abuse prevention month, we’ve been working hard to provide education, resources, and tips for child abuse prevention to help keep kids safe. We know communication is one of the most important steps of abuse prevention. However, it can also be one of the hardest steps for parents who may often feel they don’t know enough, don’t know what to say, or don’t know how to bring the subject up. Given how crucial communication is in abuse prevention, we hope the following tips arm you with more information and empower you to confidently start conversations that will help keep your child safe.
1. Talk openly and start early
Starting a conversation about sex, body safety or abuse prevention can be difficult, uncomfortable, and downright awkward for many parents. However, early and often communication about these topics is critical when it comes to preventing child abuse.
Waiting to have “the talk” with your child at twelve or thirteen may be too late. Begin weaving age-appropriate messages about personal space and body safety into everyday conversations with your child as early as age three. Keep in mind, the more relaxed, open, and casual you are, the more likely your child will be to come to you with their questions and concerns in the future. During these conversations, it’s important to teach proper names for body parts. When you begin teaching body parts like eyes, ears, and toes, also teach the real names of private parts rather than using nicknames or slang. Teach them that these private parts are special and are not meant to be shared. It’s important to teach both male and female anatomy because an abuser can be of any gender.
Knowing proper terminology may make your child less vulnerable to abuse – it will give them the right words to use if the worst does happen and will ensure the adult being told will understand what’s occurred. Learning real names of private parts can also help reduce any shameful or dirty feelings about these parts and will make open communication more likely. Remember, the less embarrassed you are to use the real names of body parts, the less embarrassed your child will be.
2. Support their right to body autonomy in all situations
When you begin the process of educating your child about personal space and body safety, be careful not to send mixed messages. We often unintentionally confuse kids by insisting they hug a family member even when they don’t want to or by saying something well-intentioned like, “Do whatever the babysitter tells you to do.” Kids are concrete thinkers and can have a hard time understanding these confusing messages. When you encounter these situations, assure your child that their “no” will be respected, and help them brainstorm different ways to show respect or affection which don’t go against the boundary they’re attempting to set (e.g. high fives, handshakes, fist bumps, etc.). Use these moments as opportunities to continue discussing good and bad touches and setting appropriate boundaries.
3. Discuss the difference between secrets and surprises
Surprises are for fun to make someone else happy and are meant to be told – like a surprise party. Secrets are not okay and can sometimes be dangerous. Teach your child that they shouldn’t keep secrets – even if somebody asks and even if it’s with somebody they know.
4. Empower them to trust their gut
Talk to your child about instincts and explain the importance of trusting any gut feelings they may have about certain people or places – our instincts are our first line of defense in keeping us out of unhealthy or dangerous situations. For younger kids, reassure them that you will listen and believe them if they ever come to you about having a “yucky” or “icky” feeling in any situation or with any person.
5. Understand how children communicate
When it comes to disclosing an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation, kids will often say something in a roundabout way instead of straight out (i.e. “I don’t like to be alone with Mr. Smith.”). They may tell only parts of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to test an adult’s reaction. The way you respond in these moments is important and could determine if they keep talking or shut down. Stay calm, gently inquire about any discomfort, and praise them for being brave enough to be open with you about how they feel. If a child does disclose abuse to you, don’t continue asking questions about what occurred. Instead, contact your local police department or Child Protective Services (CPS) and follow their instructions for next steps.
For more child abuse prevention tips, you can visit:
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