When worry is good: Talking to your child about sexual abuse

By Allison Schumacher originally published on Baby Center

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I worried about everything. I remember reading about how eating healthy things like fish and vegetables (none of which I wanted to eat) would aid in the baby’s brain development and help her make better food choices as she grew up. One evening after work, my husband innocently asked me what I wanted for dinner. I burst into tears and answered, “Pizza!” When he asked why pizza was a problem, I sobbed, “Because our child is gonna be unhealthy and unable to learn and it’ll be all my fault!”

Don’t just worry, do something

Yeah. Moms worry. So please don’t hate me when I add one more thing to a list laden with buying BPA-free bottles and finding affordable childcare—but I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t important. It is this: child sexual abuse prevention.

After all, we are our children’s primary protectors—so while we shop for the safest car seats and cover up all the electrical outlets in our houses, we also need to be thinking about talking to them in ways that can keep them safe from abuse.

Don’t put it off, do something now

I know you don’t want to think about it. Neither do I. And at the very least, it seems like something you could put off until they’re, say, 5 or 6. But child predators won’t conveniently wait around for us to start having these conversations, so we need to start early. Think of it as being proactive: you could sit around and worry about your child becoming a victim of sexual abuse. Or you could do something about it.


Start with safety rules

I’m lucky enough to work for an organization that’s been teaching personal safety skills to children for 35 years—we even have a series of short videos and articles showing parents why and how to talk to their kids about sexual abuse. So I started early. As soon as our daughter could form sentences, for example, my husband and I started talking to her about the difference between secrets and surprises.

Secrets vs. surprises

Going with Mommy to buy Daddy a birthday present is a surprise—it’s something we want him to find out about at a certain time. Someone giving you unsafe touches and telling you not to tell anyone about it is a secret. And we don’t keep secrets in our family.

The touching rule

Another one we started around about the same time was what my organization calls The Touching Rule: No one can touch your private body parts except to keep you healthy.

Keep it frequent and informal

And in case you’re wondering, these conversations aren’t formal sit-downs on a par with United Nations peace talks. They’re normal, frequent little chats—and believe me, it’s a lot easier to talk about this stuff when you group it with other family safety rules:

We don’t touch the stove. We don’t cross the street without holding a grownup’s hand. And we Always Ask First—that is, we always ask the adult in charge before someone can give us something, take us somewhere, or do something with us.

Of course, I still continue to worry about my daughter. It seems to be a hazard of this whole motherhood thing. But I do sleep better knowing that she knows ways to stay safe from sexual abuse.

Oh, and as for my worry about the food I ate when I was pregnant? My daughter is super healthy and does just fine in school. But she’ll take pizza over broccoli any day of the week.


Allison_Schumacher_imageAllison Wedell Schumacher is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and Shakespeare. She is the author ofShaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon and Schuster, 2004) and most recently worked with  Committee for Children, a Seattle nonprofit that fosters the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development. 

Photo credits: Thinkstock

Posted in media, op-eds.

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