It is important to lay the groundwork for dialogue about abuse and kidnapping early in a child’s development. Parents and child caretakers can do this by encouraging children to talk about their feelings. Take the time to ask about a child’s day, and about the people they encountered on and offline. Ask if there are any problems they are having. By creating an open dialogue with children - especially about the things that make them scared, embarrassed, or sad - you make it easier for them to tell you about potentially dangerous situations they’ve encountered with other children, teenagers, and/or adults.
Let your children know that there is a difference between a good secret and a bad secret. A good secret is a secret that is fun to keep, like a surprise party or gift. A “bad secret” is a secret that feels bad to keep, or a secret about a touch, especially if it was unwanted or made them feel confused or bad in any way. Ask them to inform you if anyone tells them to keep a bad secret, and stress that getting help when they need it doesn’t make them a “tattle tale” and that you will always be there for them.
In order to increase the likelihood that a child will disclose sexual abuse should it occur, it is important that parents/trusted adults use names for the private parts of a child’s body that do not suggest that private parts are “bad.” Try to avoid terms like “uh oh” or “naughty parts” when using names. If a child thinks that it is not alright to talk about their private parts appropriately, they will be less likely to discuss sexual abuse should it occur. Also reinforce when it is appropriate for their private parts to be touched by a parent/trusted adult (like a mom giving a baby a bath), and when it is inappropriate (like school, sports, church, etc).
One of the hardest things about creating a supportive atmosphere for communication is allowing a child to say “no” to an unwanted touch or an unwanted invitation – even when we know it is not really dangerous. Children need to be able to say “no” to an unwanted pinch on the cheek (or other socially accepted but sometimes unwanted gestures) without getting in trouble in order to be able to say “no” assertively to potentially dangerous situations.
Safety Tip Tuesday (#CQISTT) is a weekly post that addresses child safety, ideas, concepts and fundamental approaches that help protect children from kidnapping, abuse and exploitation. Sign-up to follow this blog and receive updates. Written by Kirsten Stoutemyer, Ph.D. for Child Quest International. Edited by Anthony Gonzalez