As parents we want to do everything we can to protect our kids from sexual abuse.
And even though we can never completely eliminate the risk, we can make it more likely that they will tell us if something is up. We can make it more likely that we will notice. And we can fight for them.
I asked Joanna, who works for me, to write this one, since she’s in the middle of it with toddler. Here’s Joanna!
And thank you to Tyndale for sending us How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?
My daughter is 19 months old and she is so precious to me.
I love her with a fierce, mommy love – I would move mountains for her. Moms are like that. We desperately want our littles to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.
I want her to know how loved, precious, and valuable she is, not because of what she does, but because of who she is. I was thrilled when I discovered Rachael Denhollander’s new book “How Much is a Little Girl Worth?” It’s a beautifully illustrated picture book that features little girls and their moms of all races and ethnic groups and it tells little girls what they are worth and what the grownups who love them are willing to do for them. It put words to the cry of my heart, since making the world a better place for my daughter is one of my main motivators in my work writing and researching.
I read the book to my daughter, and she immediately asked me to read it again. I did. She wanted it again. I did. She wanted it again, but hurried back to her bedroom and brought back her favorite lovie, a lion named Lyle, so he could hear the story. She wanted it again, and hurried back to her room to get her 2nd favorite lovie, Benny the lion. The next reading she headed back again for her 3rd favorite, Emily the bear.
We read the story 7 times in short succession and every time I’ve read it to her since, she’s asked for a repeat reading. My daughter is a true bookworm and LOVES learning new books we’ve gotten her, but I think this one was particularly sweet for her because hearing words of truth and love that are designed to fill her up and give her confidence and courage are powerful, even at a young age. It has been my privilege to speak words of blessing over my daughter and Rachael’s book is now a go-to gift for me. My mom is a pastor and she’s planning on getting a copy for the church where she pastors, so that they can use it with their diverse congregation in soul care, since they do a lot of work about knowing your value in Christ.
As I’m rooting my parenting in teaching my daughter her worth and value, I also want to share some of the best tips I’ve found for protecting kids from abuse.
1. Teach your kids the correct names for their anatomy
Studies show that if kids know the correct names for their anatomy, they are less likely to be abused. Experts believe this may be because potential abusers are put off by a child who can tell them plainly what they don’t want. Additionally, if a child is abused, being able to accurately say what is happening allows children to communicate with law enforcement, if the worst happens.
2. Teach your children that they do not ever HAVE to keep a secret from you
We can have surprises, like birthday parties and presents, but children need to understand that they do not need to keep secrets from their parents. Abusers often pressure children to keep things secret and intimidate them by saying that their families will be hurt if the kids don’t comply. Make sure your kids know that this is NEVER going to be true for them.
This includes letting your kids know that they can tell you if they ever feel very confused about something. When children see pornography for the first time, for instance, it often scares them and makes them feel ashamed, and so they don’t want to tell. Having that conversation about “Bad Pictures, Good Pictures” beforehand can help them be able to articulate if something bad happened, and can let them know that you’re not angry at them. And, if anyone ever tries to show them pictures they shouldn’t (showing kids porn is a common part of grooming), then they’ll be more likely to tell you.
3. Teach your children that they have autonomy over their bodies
Allow your children to decide when the want to touch someone. Never force them into hugging or kissing relatives, so that they can feel they have control over who touches them. Help them to understand age-appropriate boundaries for themselves, including when it is important to keep clothing on.
4. Be aware of your surroundings
If there is pornography lying around, if there is a sense of danger, or if something gets your spidey sense up, listen to your gut. If you’re concerned, act on that. Also, if your child, or another child you know, starts displaying warning signs themselves that point towards abuse, be sure to get help from a psychologist, physician, or other professional who is trained in dealing with child abuse.
5. Be aware of where your children are at large family gatherings
Most abusers are people close to the child involved, family members, boyfriends, older cousins, or friends. If you’re at a large family gathering, keep an eye on your kids. Many grandfathers who abuse their grandchildren did not abuse their own children. I don’t say this to scare you – but be aware of the risks and be cognizant of potential red flags with male relatives. If you’re at a large family reunion with people who you don’t know well or do not trust 100%, try to keep your child within your view or know where they are and who is with them so that you can ensure their safety. You can’t trust someone just because they are family – people have to earn your trust. Also, family members, even very well-meaning, good people, can err on the side of protecting a perpetrator, instead of ensuring that all family members have the information they need to make an informed, wise decision.
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6. Be aware of what you post on social media
A few months ago, Pink caused a stir by posting a photo of her naked child online on social media. She received a great deal of backlash and then lashed out herself, describing how horrible it was that people were sexualizing her child. She’s correct, no one should sexualize small children. But we live in a broken, horrible world and there are people who do. Keep naked bathtime pictures off of the internet to protect your children’s images from being made into child porn. That’s graphic but it’s a real risk of today’s world. If you want to share an adorable photo of your little one, use texting or email.
7. Be aware of who you are allowing to babysit your children
Don’t assume that because someone is a 14 year old girl, they are necessarily safe. One really great way to be sure your kids are safe is to ask them whether they liked their babysitter. If not, find a new one.
8. Be physically affectionate with your children
The love of a small child is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. Enjoy your children and be affectionate with them. Snuggle up and read stories, put them on your lap and sing songs, and enjoy the special closeness that you share as parent and child. Your child will learn what appropriate touching is as you model it for them. And seriously, what is better than snuggling with a toddler?
9. Be willing to trust people
Because I am vigilant about abuse (with good reason, having known abuse victims) it can be difficult for me to trust people. I am terrified of what someone could do to my precious girl. But here’s the thing: I get to choose who I trust. If someone makes my mommy spidey sense go off, I can choose not to trust them. But there are lots of wonderful people in my daughter’s life who will serve as fantastic role models for her and who will offer her a listening ear and safe place as she grows.
As parents we want to do everything we can to protect our kids from sexual abuse. Here are 10 tips to not only protect them but to help them know their value and worth!
10. Be a good listener
One of the best things you can do for your child is to be a safe person for them to talk to. My mom drove us home from school every day when I was in elementary school and my little brother would spend 15 minutes telling her the play-by-play of the day’s kickball game. I thought it was SO boring and I was amazed that my mom listened and asked so many clarifying questions. Years later I realized that she was cared and listened intently because she loved my brother, not because she was riveted by the kickball game. By talking to our kids about little stuff, entering into their interests, and being a part of their lives, we increase the likelihood that they’ll come to us if something really big happens. Kickball matters.
There you have it! My best tips for being an abuse-savvy mom. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for parents that I didn’t cover here? Let me know in the comments!