Keeping Your Child Safe, Tips for Parents

Listen and Talk With Your Child
Perhaps the most critical child sexual prevention strategy for parents is good communication with your children. This is not only challenging to every parent but also can be difficult, especially for working parents and parents of adolescents.

Talk to your child every day and take time to really listen and observe. Learn as many details as you can about your child’s activities and feelings. Encourage him or her to share concerns and problems with you.

Explain that his or her body belongs only to them alone and that he or she has the right to say no to anyone who might try to touch them. Clarify that they should tell you right away if someone does touch them.

Tell your child that some adults may try to hurt children and make them do things the child doesn’t feel comfortable doing. Often these grownups call what they’re doing a secret between themselves and the child.

Explain that some adults may even threaten children by saying that their parents may be hurt or killed if the child ever shares the secret. Emphasize that an adult who does something like this is doing something that is wrong.
If Your Child Tells You He or She Has Been Abused

Believe the child. Children rarely lie about sexual abuse.

Commend the child for telling you about the experience.

Convey your support for the child. A child’s greatest fear is that he or she is at fault and responsible for the incident. Alleviating this self-blame is of paramount importance.

Temper your own reaction, recognizing that your perspective and acceptance are critical signals to the child. Your greatest challenge may be to not convey your own horror about the abuse.

Do not confront the perpetrator. Instead, report the suspected molestation to a social services agency or the police.

Find a specialized agency that evaluates sexual abuse victims – a hospital or a child welfare agency or a community mental health therapy group. Keep asking until you find a group or an individual with appropriate expertise.

Remember that taking action is critical because if nothing is done, other children will continue to be at risk. Child sexual abuse is a community interest and concern.

Make sure that your child knows that if someone does something confusing to them, like touching or taking a naked picture or giving them gifts, you want to be told about it. Reassure the child and explain that he or she will not be blamed for whatever an adult does with the child.

Do not blame yourself. Find someone you can talk to and who can provide you with some support. And, remember, children can heal from this experience. Your love and support are essential for healing to take place.
Source: Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Tips to Parents, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, US Department of Health and Human Services
Observe Physical and Behavioral Signs
Children who may be too frightened to talk about sexual molestation may exhibit a variety of physical and behavioral signs.
Behavioral signs:
Some of these signs can show up at other stressful times such as divorce, a death in the family, or when there are problems in school as well as when abuse is involved. Any one sign doesn’t mean the child was abused, but several of them mean that you should begin asking questions.

Nightmares, trouble sleeping, fear of the dark, or other sleeping problems.

Extreme fear of “monsters.”

Spacing out at odd times.

Loss of appetite, or trouble eating or swallowing.

Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal.

Fear of certain people or places.

Stomach illness all of the time with no identifiable reason.

An older child behaving like a younger child such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking.

Sexual activities with toys or other children.

New words for private body parts.

Talking about a new older friend.
Physical signs:

Unexplained bruises, redness, or bleeding of the child’s genitals, anus, or mouth.

Pain at the genitals, anus, or mouth

Genital sores or milky fluids in the genital area.
Source: Because There Is A Way to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: Facts About Abuse and Those Who Might Commit It, STOP IT NOW! Minnesota (2002)

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