Story by Jennifer Simmons
Special to GUIDON
In addition to being the Month of the Military Child, April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month.
One of the most formidable prevention tools for child abuse is a parent or caregiver’s ability to teach their children about their bodies and how to protect themselves from uncomfortable touch, boundary violations or abuse.
Conversations about safety are not a one and done type of conversation.
Body safety discussions should occur at an early age, and parents should reiterate these conversations throughout their child’s life. Here are five approaches that could help your child be less vulnerable to sexual abuse.
— Teach your child the proper names for their body parts early on. Children who know the proper names can clearly communicate if someone inappropriately touches their private parts and the trusted adult who hears the disclosure is very clear that something inappropriate occurred.
The use of silly “pet names” can be confusing, especially if a child refers to their private part using a common name or an object like the word “toy.”
The use of proper names for body parts makes it easier for a child to talk about them in the event they have a problem.
— Teach your child that some body parts are private. Explain in detail that a private part is not for everyone to see or touch.
Be sure to discuss the specific people who may see or touch their private parts like their other parent or their doctor during medical checkups.
It is imperative that your child clearly understands that if Mom and Dad are not present and another child or adult asks to see or touch their private parts, they should report that to you as soon as possible.
— Teach your child body boundaries. Often times, parents focus solely on telling their child not to allow anyone else to touch their privates, but children must also be told that if someone else asks them to touch their private parts, that they should say “No” and then tell someone they trust immediately.
Sexual abuse often begins with the perpetrator asking the child to touch them or someone else.
— Tell your child that they cannot keep body secrets. Most perpetrators of sexual abuse tell a child to keep the abuse a secret.
They may say such things as, “This is our secret; if you tell anyone you will get in big trouble” or “I will hurt your parents if you tell.” Teach your child that no matter what, keeping a body secret is not acceptable.
Let them know that they will not be in trouble with you for telling.
— Teach your child how to handle situations that make them feel uncomfortable.
Telling an adult “no” or even another child “no” can be difficult for some children. Tell your child to use their words and run away immediately to a trusted adult if something makes them feel uncomfortable.
It may be beneficial to role-play with your child how to say “no” and how to leave situations that make them feel uneasy.
Army Community Service and the Family Advocacy Program strive to equip parents and caregivers with the tools needed to prevent child abuse.
ACS has additional resources upon request to provide parents with the tools to prevent child sexual abuse.
Feel free to contact the Family Advocacy Program at 573.596.0212 or the Family Violence Response Line to report abuse at 573.596.0446.
(Editor’s note: Simmons is a Family Advocacy Program education specialist.)