April is child abuse prevention month. It is the month set aside to try and end child abuse.
Parents have many responsibilities when educating their children about life. One of the most important conversations to have with your child is a conversation about body safety. What is body safety, you ask? Body safety is teaching your children that their body is their own, and if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, you want to know as soon as possible. This one piece of information can save your child from childhood sexual abuse and is key to abuse prevention.
I think parents overthink this topic, get scared, and then do not say anything to their children. But the best way to prevent child abuse is to talk about it before it happens — not after.
Taking a few steps to prevent child abuse is easy: Know who is watching your children, educate your child about body safety rules, and respond quickly if your child self-discloses information that someone has harmed them.
Contrary to what the media feeds families, children are usually harmed by people in their own family. About 93% of children who are harmed are harmed by someone they know. Meaning, anyone is capable of harmful acts. Most children are not harmed or abducted by someone at a store, but by someone sitting around your dining room table. Child abuse is all about access. Make a mental list of who has access to your children and who spends time with them alone when you are not there.
It is also highly likely that the parent introduced the child to their perpetrator. The parent left the child alone with the perpetrator without knowing they wouldn’t be OK. If you frequently leave your child alone with a close friend or family member, it is OK to say to that friend or family member, “I have spoken with my children about ways to prevent child abuse. In our family, we have an open dialogue. My children will be reporting to me if someone they know is making them feel uncomfortable.” It does not have to be in those exact words, but saying something goes a long way to aid in child sexual abuse prevention. Most friends and family members will respect the boundary you have set.
Kids of all ages institutively know abuse is wrong. If you give them permission to self-disclose, they usually will. Remember, if you say nothing, your children will say nothing if something happens to them. They will take their cues from you, so be sure you speak out on this topic.
Children will understand this information at a very young age. You want to be the first person to talk to your child about child abuse, not the perpetrator. My daughter was about 18 months when I got the first proof of my children’s book, “Some Parts Are NOT for Sharing.” This is a child abuse prevention book, available in English and Spanish, for children 0-9 years old. I read it to my daughter, and while we were carving pumpkins one day, she asked me, “mom, do pumpkins have private parts?” I thought, I am really onto something here — she gets this. Your child can get it as well.
Parents struggle with how to prevent child abuse, but it is really very simple. Read my book to your children, have conversations about people who are in a caregiving role in their life and talk about your family relationships. Tell your children that it is OK to tell if anyone in the family hurts them. Tell them that you will not be angry and that you want to know as soon as possible. As your child grows, their questions will change. You will know when it is time to include more information than what is in the book.
Julie Federico is a Denver resident and the author of “Some Parts are NOT for Sharing.” To order the book or learn more about Federico’s other children’s books titles, visit juliefederico.com/books.
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