Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten Tips for Talking to Kids about Child Sexual Abuse

The recent headline screams “Paterno Fired”, fans and alumni are shocked, outraged, and heartbroken at the news, that Joe Paterno, “Joe Pa” to many, coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for decades, was released from his duties due to allegations that he failed to take appropriate action to address alleged sexual abuse of children by one of the long time members of his coaching staff.  Sandusky has been indicted on multiple counts of child sexual abuse, and the Happy Valley is in collective shock.  While many say that Paterno acted within the law, others maintain that he did not do the right thing and seemed to turn a blink eye. 

As we watch the news, again, in our faces, our kids are curious.  “Mom, why did they fire Coach Paterno?” “Dad, what is sexual assault?” and “Why did that man hurt those kids?” In a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed this issue, and he discuss how he turned this tragedy into an  opportunity to talk to his kids about child sexual abuse and doing the right thing.

Within the tragedy that surrounds this story, as parent, you can take the opportunity to talk to your kids, educate them about abuse, and teach them how to protect themselves and their friends if they encounter abusive behavior. (DISCLAIMER: Discussions with your child will differ based on their age, maturity level and comfort level. Do not give your child more information than they are ready to handle).

Ten Tips for Talking to Kids about Child Sexual Abuse:

 1. In explaining sexual abuse to your children, it is important to be clear, factual and brief. Speaking to children about sensitive sexual issues is difficult at best, and in this instance, keeping it short and sweet (KISS) is the rule of thumb.

2.  Give your children factual information about sexuality and appropriate behavior.  Teach them that nobody should touch their private parts, and about different roles of adults in their lives (i.e. a doctor may ask them to remove their shirt, but not the neighbor).  Be sure to use proper names for body parts and ensure that kids know what private parts are.

3.  Teach children that some actions are against the law, and that any sexual activity between an adult and a child is illegal.

2. Give your child time to express their feelings, concerns and as questions. Keeping the lines of communication open is a key. Let your child know that you are available to answer their questions or discuss their fears, even after the conversation is over. This is an opportunity to have a conversation that can open doors for your child to communicate with you.

3. While it is important for children to “not talk to strangers”, telling your kids this common rule is not enough. The troubling fact remains that most sexual abusers are known to their victims and their families.

4. Do not force your children to hug or kiss relatives when they are uncomfortable. Children need to develop their own comfort level with touch, and their own instincts to refrain from touch are important to honor.

5. Tell your children that they should never get into a car with an adult without your permission.

6.  Make an effort to know your children’s friends and their parents, teachers, coaches, clergy and other older kids and adults in their lives.  While this is important, be aware that many predators are close to their victim’s families.

7. If your child expresses discomfort with staying at someone’s house or visiting someone, listen to your child and honor their feelings. This is not to say that you should assume something is wrong, but parents should always be vigilant and aware of the older kids and adults in their child’s life.

 8. Tell your kids how to yell "Stop” and go tell an adult if anyone hurts or touches them inappropriately. In addition, showing them private parts, pornographic videos or photos is inappropriate and they should report this to a trusted adult immediately.  Instruct kids of who the adults are that they can tell and what they should report. Have them choose 3 or 4 adults that they trust so they know who to go to that will listen to their concerns.

 9. Tell your kids that if they observe someone hurting others, it’s ok to tell, and to yell “stop”. Teaching kids to stand up for themselves and others can help them feel more confident and can be a deterrent to becoming the victim of bullies.

 10.  Explain to children that some children and adults have a “touching problem” and explain that they need help so that they can stop touching. Refrain from explaining by calling it a “sickness”. Furthermore, teach children that people with these problems may try to get them to keep a secret and might even give them gifts, candy, video games, clothes, money threats of hurting family or telling others.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, you have concerns about your child, or you have any questions, you should ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!


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