One of the hardest things about being a parent is living with the knowledge that there are so many potential scenarios or people in the world that could harm our children. One of the scariest and most harmful things that can happen to our children is sexual abuse or assault – especially given that so often the abuser is someone they know and trust, or someone we know and trust .

For this reason, it is important to start conversations about security, privacy, and consent while they are young and continue those conversations as our children grow and reach different stages of development. But it can be difficult to know where to start and what words to use, so I spoke to them DR. Tia Kim, Vice President Education, Research and Impact at the Committee on Children for advice.

The conversation should start when they are toddlers

For such a scary and awkward conversation, you may not find it useful to start laying the foundation stone when you are only two or three years old, but those years can introduce some basic concepts of privacy and consent into a conversation that is quite natural Path. The focus, says Kim, should always be on personal safety; Just as you talk about the need to wear a helmet or mask when riding a bike to prevent the spread of germs, you can also teach children the difference between safe and unsafe touch.

“I fondly remember the ‘three R’s’ of safety when it comes to preventing child sexual abuse,” she says. “The first ‘R’ being to teach your children to recognize safe and unsafe touch. [next] be able to refuse unwanted touch; and [finally] that it is also very important to report the behavior when it happens to them. “

In the case of very young children, you can first identify their body parts –by their anatomically correct names– and normalize conversations by integrating them into daily routines.

“As a parent or carer, you can find educational moments to bring it up where it seems very natural,” says Kim. “I have two boys. When they were really small and I potty trained them, whenever I helped them to the bathroom I kept saying, “And who can touch your private parts of the body?” As if having just a natural type of conversation was just a natural way of talking because that happened. “

Illustration for article titled How To Talk To Your Children About Sexual Abuse

And keep doing it as they get older

As children get older, you can continually build on these conversations with more nuance and more detail. A good “safety rule” for an older child might be to remind them that no adult should ever ask them to keep a secret about touch or unsafe touch. You may have conversations while you tuck them in bed or when they hit puberty when you’re in the car so they don’t have to make eye contact with you. It is important for them to know that these topics are never forbidden, even if they may feel a little uncomfortable.

If you’re having trouble about when or how to talk to your child about sexual abuse, this is the one Campaign of the Committee for Children “Hot Chocolate Talk” has put together tutorials for conversation starters for parents of children of all ages:

With older children, it’s also important to reiterate that sexual abuse doesn’t just happen personally, says Kim.

“It could happen online too, so I think this is an important part of the conversation,” she says. “To say that it is never okay for an elderly person to show you pictures of their private body parts or ask you to do the same.” Things like that. Creating security online is also important for parents. “

Illustration for article titled How To Talk To Your Children About Sexual Abuse

When they disclose abuse

If your child – or any child – announces that abuse has taken place or is happening, you are likely to feel overwhelmed with how you react, how you process the information it gives you, and how you manage your own emotions about it on the internet right now . The best and most important thing you can do in this scenario is to stay calm – and believe them.

“Most importantly, you really have to believe what the child is saying to you,” says Kim. “Very rarely do children lie about sexual abuse. So I think this is very important for adults. Even simple statements like “I hear you” and “I believe you” are very powerful. “

Kim says that 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is someone the child and family know pretty well, which can make it even more difficult for the child to reveal that it happened. That’s why, she says, it’s so important to have these ongoing conversations to keep the lines of communication open so that if they do become a victim of abuse, they feel like they can come to you to talk about it.