Therapist Korinne Bouwhuis is helping us understand what you need to talk to your kids about to prevent child abuse.
1. Start Early, Building from Basic Safety Foundations to Body Safety
Personal safety teaching follows from a continuum of every day safety skills. We teach our kids safety almost automatically on so many things, from knowing phone numbers and addresses, to crossing the street safely, and recognizing stranger danger. Kids follow our lead and treat body and personal safety topics as natural as any other areas of safety if, as parents, we can make it part of our regular conversation and teaching topics.
2. 'Say No, Run, Tell'
This is a universal response to a variety of unsafe behavior, activities, or people. Great to internalize across safety issues. This quick, programmed response can work for kids being approached with anything from playing with matches, to illegal activity, pornography, and abuse. For an added layer of safety, sometimes we need to also teach, tell, and keep telling until the problem stops. Also, encouraging children to do any part of that response that they are able. If they couldn`t say no, or get away, telling is still a great response.
3. Each Person is the Owner of Personal Body Space and Who or What is Safe
Teach kids to listen to their own sense of what feels right and good and what does not. This is often described as the 'uh-oh feeling' in school education programs.
Also teach them some basic boundary rules that can be repeated and echoed to in their minds if they are confused. Great mantras for this beginning at young ages are 'Nobody touches my private body parts except to keep me clean and healthy,' 'Private body parts are those parts of the body that are so special we keep them covered even when we go swimming,' and 'We don`t keep secrets, only surprises.' At older ages, the mantras might be along the lines of 'No means no,' and 'Would I want my friend to be treated this way?' or 'Should a friend keep quiet about something like this?'
While it is often necessary to teach kids about who IS NOT safe, as is the case with stranger danger or internet and social media activity, parents should avoid telling children who IS safe. This potentially leads to confusion or creates a barrier to disclosing abuse as most often the abuser is a person who is within the family or very close to the child and family who is mistakenly trusted, and unknowingly considered safe. Allow the child to identify their own safe adults at any age.
4. Always Glad to Know and Ready to Help
The first questions of parents or caregivers I meet with in situations of abuse are always along the lines of, 'Did I handle it okay?', 'What should I say?', or 'How am I supposed to respond if my child tells me about the abuse?' The answer, again, is something we should all pre-program in our minds should the situation arise, and it`s not that complicated: 'I`m glad that you told me, I am going to help you.'
It is also important to promise our children, at any age, that they will not be in trouble if an unsafe or inappropriate situation does occur, even if they think they are in some way partly responsible for it. The promise is that they will never be in trouble if they call for help or exit from an unsafe situation, and that you will always be glad to receive that call and be able to help.
This inhibits the ability of others to blackmail and manipulate our youth luring them further and further down a path of danger. Often abusers threaten victims that they will let others know 'what you have already done.' It is a shaming process to coerce victims into further abuse. We need a loud and clear message that our youth are loved and valued regardless of what has happened to them and that we are on standby to help no matter the circumstance. In this way, we can empower victims to get distance from the cycle of abuse.
5. Where There is Help, There is Healing
You can get more information about Korinne here.