As parents we do things all the time to keep our kids safe. We hold their hands while they cross the street, we have them wear helmets when they ride their bikes, and we make sure they don’t eat peanuts if they are allergic. But what do we do as parents to help lower the odds of sexual abuse happening to our children? Last week we hosted a “Parenting Safe Children” class in Stapleton, taught by Feather Berkower, who has dedicated her career to educating parents on how to protect their children from abuse. Ideally all parents could have attended but I know life is full…so for those who couldn’t make it here are 3 take aways from the class that you can put into action starting today to lower the chance of abuse happening to your kids. If you want to really educate yourself there is a link at the end to the “Parenting Safe Children” workshop schedule.
1 – Teach Your Kids they are the “Boss of their body”
Kids need to know they are in charge of their bodies. If your kids know this simple phrase…”I am the boss of my body” it could make all the difference in keeping them safe. If an offender tries to do something a child isn’t comfortable with this knowledge that they are in control of their body may give them the confidence to say “no”. So how do you teach your kids this, with an awkward parent/child sit down meeting….no. You work it into the every day conversation when a “teachable moment” presents itself. For example, you’re bathing your daughter and she curiously asks about her private part, as kids do sometimes. You can answer her question using the correct terminology and then mention that “she is the boss of her body” and no one touches her body except her parents when we are cleaning her or the doctor if she is sick and needs help. Reinforcing this ” you are the boss of your body” idea consistently over time will help it to sink in and it will give her the confidence to stop anyone who tries to do something she doesn’t want to do with her body. (sexual offender or teenage boyfriend…I don’t even want to think about the teenage years yet!)
2 – Play the “What If?” Game with Your Kids
Your kids are gonna be presented with situations where they don’t know what to do…so why not play the “what if?” game with them when you’re driving to school or taking the dog for a walk. “What if….you were playing in the park and a stranger asked you to go see a puppy in his van, what would you do?” or “What if…you were playing with your friend and she wanted to take off your clothes and run around naked?” This simple game can be used to help develop your kids sense of right and wrong and it can really help them when a real life situation occurs. Your kids don’t naturally know what is right and wrong, they need to be taught and they love games so why not teach them that way? Some say talking about somewhat scary scenarios could scare kids but I’d say it’s educating them and helping them. Obviously you want to use age appropriate language so you don’t frighten them or make them paranoid about bad things that could potentially happen in their lives.
3 – Teach your Kids Not To Keep Secrets
If your kids are taught not to keep secrets they will be less likely to fall prey to offenders who rely on kids abilities to keep secrets from their parents. Offenders often “groom” their target children by getting them to keep small secrets (we ate ice cream when we shouldn’t have) and then they build up to big secrets including sexual abuse. If your kids say early on in that grooming process “no, my parents say we can’t keep secrets” the offender will likely move on to another child who will keep secrets. So how do we teach our kids from keeping secrets? It takes consistency in our words and our actions. We first need to just tell them that as a family we have a rule not to keep secrets with anyone. Then we need to reinforce that with our actions. We can’t say don’t keep secrets but then tell them “Don’t tell Mommy we stopped at Mcdonalds for dinner”…that is a contradiction and causes confusion. No secrets….this one family rule could make a world of difference. (FYI surprises are ok and the difference is a surprise is something fun that you will tell the person later…like a Christmas gift or a surprise party)
So there you go, 3 things you can do to help lower the odds of sexual abuse from happening to your child. All of these concepts were taken directly from the “Parenting Safe Children” Workshop from Feather Berkower and it’s only a small sample of what you will learn if you choose to take the course. Want to learn more? Here is the “Parenting Safe Children” Workshop Schedule.
My wife and I could always do more, but I know our 3 daughters are safer because of the knowledge and tools we gained through Feather’s course. Hope you will take the time to do educate yourself as well!