When it comes to emergency preparedness, we know the value of talking through a safety plan with our kids. They know where to go in case of a fire at school, to head to the basement if they hear a tornado siren and to duck and cover during an earthquake. Our kids know these things because we talk about them and practice them until they become second nature.
But what if our kids were facing not a natural disaster, but a situation where they could potentially be sexually abused? What if sexual abuse has happened to them? Would they know what to do? Do they have a plan?
The statistics are frightening. Our children are far more likely to face the reality of sexual abuse than they are to navigate a fire or be involved in a natural disaster, but they are coming into those moments far less prepared. While we may have talked to our kids about “stranger danger” we may not have thought to talk to them about what to do if someone they trust tries to use that trust to take advantage of them. Children are much less likely to be abused by a stranger than they are by someone they know— someone YOU know.
Many parents worry that by talking to our kids about the potential for sexual abuse, we will scare them. In reality, by giving them the right words, knowledge of their boundaries and a safety plan, we are empowering our kids. Just like they calmly walk to their designated area during a school fire drill, we can help our kids feel prepared and calm when we are able to calmly work at preparing them for a reality we hope will never happen.
Ideally, all of this preparation must be done BEFORE our children enter scenarios were they could be sexually abused. If you wonder how young you should start these questions, ask yourself, “Is my child old enough to be sexually abused?” If they are (and I bet they are), then you need to start equipping them. That means while you’re potty-training your toddler, you have conversations about privacy and boundaries. When you’re preparing your five-year-old to head off to Kindergarten, you talk about how special their private parts are and how no other children or adults at school are allowed to see them. On the drive to summer camp you discuss appropriate behavior and what to do if someone violates your boundaries.
We have these conversations whenever our children ask questions, but we also do intentional work before any situation that could be “high risk” for sexual abuse. We want to be sure we’re creating that safety plan and empowering our kids for whatever unique situation they could face. If that idea seems overwhelming to you, here are some questions you can ask your kids to help start the conversation:
-Who is allowed to see your private parts?
-Who can help you in the bathroom if you need help?
-If someone tries to see or touch your private parts, what do you say?
Before a Family Gathering
-If you don’t feel comfortable giving someone a hug, what can you do instead?
-If you are in the bathroom and someone walks in, what should you say?
-If someone does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, who can you tell?
Before a Playdate
-If you needed help in the bathroom, who could you ask?
-Is your friend allowed to see or touch your private parts?
-If anyone touched or saw your private parts, what would you do?
-If something happened at school that made you uncomfortable, who could you tell?
-If you saw a child behaving in a sexually inappropriately way, what would you do?
-If a child told you they were being sexually abused, what would you do?
Before a Sleepover
-If you don’t want to change clothes in front of your friend, where can you go?
-If anything makes you uncomfortable, how can you communicate that to me?
-If someone wants to show you something that’s sexually inappropriate, what will you say?
Before Summer Camp
-If someone wants to see or touch your private parts, what will you say?
-If something happens that you feel uncomfortable about, who do you trust that you can tell?
-If you need me to come get you or help you handle something, how can you communicate that?
-If you’re in the church bathroom and someone comes in and makes you uncomfortable, what can you do?
-Because someone is your pastor or Sunday School teacher, does that mean they are allowed to see or touch your private parts?
-If you don’t want to hug someone at church, how can you respond when they ask for a hug?
Before Giving them a Phone
-If a friend sends you inappropriate pictures, what will you do?
-If someone asks you to send them inappropriate pictures, what will you do?
-If you accidentally run across something inappropriate, who can you talk to?
These questions aren’t the whole conversation, they’re just a starting point. They are a way to open up the dialogue that will allow you to come up with a safety plan together. My kids can name you five people they would trust to help them if they needed it. They know I will not be mad if they aggressively defend themselves. They know the appropriate names of their private parts so they can clearly communicate if something happened. They know their private parts are private because they are special, not because they are shameful. They know their body belongs to them and they are allowed to make decisions about who they give affection to. They know these things because we have talked about them. We have role played scenarios to figure out what we would do. I have told them that even if they have to tell me something hard about someone I have loved and trusted, I WANT to know and they NEED to tell me.
No child is born knowing those things any more than they are born knowing what to do in case of a fire. We have to train them for the worst and hope for the best. We do it calmly and intentionally so our kids won’t feel fearful or panicked as we discuss it. The more we can empower our kids to know their boundaries, have a plan, and trust us to help them, the more we can prevent them from becoming victims.
And should the worst happen, they’ll know what to do because we’ve practiced. They’ve prepared. Just like a fire drill.
This article was written for ForEveryMom.com and may not be republished without permission.