Tips for Parents When Talking to Children
This information from Praesidium is designed to help you talk with your child in situations where there is a possibility that he or she might reveal information about inappropriate touching.
Although, it may be difficult to do, it is important that you remain calm when you speak with your child. Your demeanor will communicate more than your words. Children can be traumatized by emotional, angry or accusatory reactions.
Things to consider before speaking to your child about sensitive subjects:
- Timing and atmosphere are very important. Choose a calm, unhurried, private time to speak with your child.
- Be sure you are ready before you enter into this type of conversation. Be calm, emotionally controlled, and confident. Communicate to your child that you are open to discussing this topic and that you can handle what comes up.
- If this type of conversation is difficult for you, practice with a spouse, relative, friend or in a mirror.
- Use simple, conversational language your child can understand.
- Do not make the talk scary or gloomy. Sexuality and self-protection are issues to discuss with your child on a regular basis. These conversations should be a positive learning experience for your child, so they feel comfortable talking about their bodies. Remember, “If you cannot talk about it, you cannot protect it.”
- If your child shares difficult information, STAY CALM!
- Do no say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
- Do let the child continue to speak.
- Tell your child, “I am really proud that you have shared this with me and I believe we should continue this discussion when we can get more help from a counselor who has helped other children with this type of situation. How does that sound?”
How to Begin:
- Start the conversation with some brief “chit chat.”
- “How was your day?” or It is nice to have a chance to sit and talk for moment, isn’t it?”
- Identify the circumstances in question.
- “How is everything going at camp, school, or practice?” “What is your favorite thing to do there?” What is your least favorite thing to do?”
- “Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable?” “Remember if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable you should tell mom, dad, a teacher, or another adult.”
- You know it is very important that if anything like that happened to you that you tell me right away, right? That way I can make sure you are safe.”
- If you and your child want to continue to talk
- Your child may feel uncomfortable; you will want to do what you can to put them at ease. Sitting close, using calm voice tones, giving a hug, or keeping your arm wrapped around them.
- If your child stops speaking or gets upset, continue comforting them.
- “Tell me more, I’m listening.”
- “Honey, you know I love you very much and I am concerned that you might be upset about something. Please tell me what you are thinking.”
- If your child discloses something happened:
- “I am really glad you told me about this. You did the right thing by telling me. I am going to make sure this never happens again. I know you are upset but mom and dad are here for you.”
- After the conversation:
- Write notes about the conversation while it is still fresh in your mind.
Helpful resource numbers:
To report concerns or suspected abuse call the Department of Family and Protective Services in your state.
Building Boundaries™ Information for Parents
Even very young children can learn some skills to help keep themselves safe from sexual abuse, but it is up to parents to help them learn what they need to know. Here are some important things you can teach that will help you help your child stay safe.
Teach Your Children about Their Bodies
Names of all Parts of their Bodies
Talk to your child about body parts, and name private parts in that discussion. This will give your child words to use when he/she needs to tell you anything about his/her body, like an injury or rash or other problem in that area.
Rules about Touching their Bodies
Preschoolers understand the idea of rules. They know there are rules about hitting and biting, rules about playing nicely with others, and rules about being safe, like wearing seat belts. So as you teach these rules, just add rules about touching their bodies. Add rules about private parts, too.
- “Never let other people touch your private parts.”
What to do if someone tries to Break the Rules
Your children need to know what to do when someone breaks the rules about touching them. They need to know
- What to say to someone who breaks the rules about touching,
- To move away from someone who is breaking the rules about touching, and
- To tell you or another adult if someone breaks the rules about touching.
Teach your child to say, “No!” or “No! Don’t touch my private parts.” or “My body is private. You can’t touch me there.” or “Leave me alone.” or simply “Don’t do that.” Teach your child to say this to other children as well as to adults. Practice saying phrases like these with your child.
Teach your child to move away from anyone who is breaking the rules about touching. Tell your child that it is okay to get out of someone’s lap or pull away from a hug if they feel uncomfortable. Even if an adult asks them not to.
Teach your child to tell you or another adult, like a teacher or caregiver, if someone breaks the rules about touching them.
How to Recognize Warning Signs in Your Child
Now let us talk about what you can do if someone is breaking rules about touching your child. No one knows your child better than you do. So, as parents,
Watch for warning signs,
Listen for warning signs, and
Follow up when you see or hear warning signs.
If something is wrong, you may see a sudden change in your child’s behavior, or you may hear unusual comments. If you see or hear these things, follow up. Find a relaxed time to talk with your child.
How to Respond if your Child tells you about Inappropriate Behavior
If your child tells you about inappropriate behavior, such as someone who is too physical with him/her or who makes him/her uncomfortable, ask him/her to give you an example. If the interaction was inappropriate, but not actual abuse – talk with his/her teacher or caregiver. Specify your concern and check back with your child and with the teacher.
How to Respond if your Child Tells you about Sexual Abuse
Your response plays a big role in how your child understands the abuse and how he/she recovers.
First: Stay calm.
Second: Comfort your child.
Third: Listen carefully.
Fourth: Do not threaten or criticize the person your child is accusing.
Fifth: Report. Call child protective services or call the police.
It is up to us as adults to do all we can to prevent child sexual abuse. It is up to all of us, especially parents, to create a safe environment for children. Teaching them about their bodies, recognizing warning signs, and responding to your concerns are important first steps.