How to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse
Sexual Abuse is one of the most important topics that should be shed light on as our child grows. It’s not a taboo, nor a topic that should be held in shadows.
Today’ I’m going to break this so-called taboo, by discussing this sensitive topic, and helping parents understand the importance of sexual abuse protection for their children.
To further discuss the importance of sexual abuse awareness and how to protect our kids, I had an interview with the clinical psychologist Soheir Hachem where we explained many important details.
For my full interview with Soheir Hachem, click on this Link
Question Number One: Should we fear sexual abuse for children?
Sexual abuse has been present everywhere since ever, but the society, and ours in specific used to cover it up. However, now it’s become more comfortably discussed, which is why we’re hearing of more sexual abuse cases.
Now should we fear sexual abuse? Of Course!
The child in this situation is experiencing an incident that he/she did not ask for, which creates unpleasant feelings that may develop into mental and psychological problems if not treated properly. Therefore, our role as parents is to educate ourselves and our kids on how to avoid such incidents in the first place.
Although parents tend to ignore sexual abuse topics as a part of denial, they can’t ignore the fact that it might actually happen everywhere: at home, on the bus, at school, with the helper and in many other places.
Question Number Two: How can we protect our children from sexual abuse?
One of the parents’ biggest mistakes is postponing this topic until their children are “older”. A child should be aware from a young age of their body parts starting from their heads, eyes, mouths, noses, and reaching their private parts which are a basic part of their bodies. Sexual abuse awareness for children should start from the age of 2.5 years as they start to talk and understand.
For example, as they shower we should teach them the actual names of their body parts, mentioning the penis or vagina as well. A major mistake parents make is giving nicknames for the children’s private parts. These nicknames give children the impression of shame or a negative outlook on their private body parts.
We are not always present around our children, so teaching them their body organs’ names allows them to talk more fluently of them and to mention any incidents they might encounter without fear. If a parent isn’t comfortable in teaching their children the names of their private parts, they can simply teach them to say “my private parts”.
Question Number Three: After teaching our children the names of their organs, should we teach them that these parts are off-limits?
Teaching your child the importance of the privacy of their organs is never negative. However, a parent should use the correct method to do so. Parents can teach their children through a light conversation where they mention these tips naturally, without overthinking it.
I usually use “The Underwear Rule”: The rule implies teaching children that everything covered with underwear is private parts, and no one should see or touch them.
Simultaneously, the child should also not see or touch another kid’s private parts. Sexual abuse does not only occur between adults and kids as well, but between kids themselves as well as part of their curiosity. Therefore, it’s very important to teach your children to not touch, nor accept being touched without explanation (even from doctors).
Also, if a child refuses to go hug their aunt or grandma, or sit on their uncle’s lap, respect their choices and don’t emotionally force them to do what they don’t feel like doing at the moment. Don’t say phrases like: “Your aunt will be sad if you don’t kiss her”, because it’s similar to the emotional pressure that a sexual abuser would use to exploit your child. Trust your child’s gut and judgments about people as they never lie about these feelings.
Question Number Four: What are your tips for sexual abuse?
First of all, it’s very important to teach our child the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. A bad touch includes a tight close hug, touching of private parts, and others.
Many methods can help to teach them the concept of a bad touch, which includes the underwear rule mentioned earlier, and the good and bad secret method, which explains that there is no secret related to private parts and that they shouldn’t have secrets hidden from their parents. Also, you can practice role-playing with your child and teach them how to react in case someone came inappropriately close to them. Always teach your children the importance of speaking up about what happens with them with the right people.
It’s very important to have an environment at home that enhances the child’s ability to speak fluently with his/her parents, and parents must listen to what their children have to say.
Question Number Five: What’s your idea about a sleepover?
I personally don’t support sleepovers. You usually think that you know the people where your child wants to sleep, but in fact, you don’t. Also, children shouldn’t be left together in a closed room for a long time because you never know how children think or act. Children should always be monitored and looked after.
Sleepovers are acceptable for children of ages 12 years and above.
Question Number Six: What symptoms and signs should we look out for if sexual abuse occurs?
Parents should always keep an eye on their children to be able to detect the slightest changes and signs in their child’s behavior that may signal abuse.
These signs include:
- Changes in eating habits: Eating too much or too little.
- Changes in sleeping habits.
- Changes in behaviors, daydreaming, and behavioral changes at school.
It’s very important to assure your child that you always have their back no matter what happens and that they should tell you whatever happens even if it makes you sad. It is also important to assure them that sexual abusers should be punished for what they do and do not cover it up.
Question Number Seven: Should parents watch out for media and shows that might have hidden sexual abuse messages?
Parents should always watch out for media outlets pop-ups, IPad games, and TV shows that might include hidden sexual messages.
However, we are not able to catch up on and limit everything that our children might see. Therefore, the best solution is to shield our children by building awareness on how to deal with these encounters.
Question Number Eight: At what age is it acceptable to start discussing sexual relationships with your child?
Body parts’ names should be learned at the age of 2.5 years. However, a child is more curious to know more information at the age of 5 when they start asking: “How was I born?”
The best solution here is to ask them what’s their own perception and idea of this topic. Afterward, we can build upon their answer to give them the appropriate knowledge. You should give them all their needed answers with limits, and you can replace the word “sex” with “love”.
Question Number Nine: Is a child touching himself normal?
Generally, it’s a normal thing for children to touch their private parts. It’s very important to deal with this incident normally and not shame kids for doing so. Instead, you should either distract your child or ignore him.
Question Number Ten: Should Children know about the sexual parts of other genders, or see the private parts of their parents?
Children should not bathe with their parents, siblings, or even friends after the age of 3. That is not to create a sense of shyness, but for the sole purpose of respecting the other gender and to understand the matter of privacy.
Finally, sexual abuse is a major topic that should neither be hidden nor postponed. It might happen to anyone of our children.
Therefore, it’s our responsibility to safeguard them with knowledge and awareness.
We hope this information was helpful!
To view my full interview with Soheir Hachem about Breastfeeding and Child nutrition, click on this Link
Mirna Sabbagh, an adult and child dietitian, nutritionist, and lactation consultant sees patients physically in Dubai, and also does online consultations for weight loss for adults and children, pick eating and other services. In addition, she also has several digital courses: breastfeeding course, starting solids 6-12 months course, child nutrition for all children including picky eaters, and also a weight loss course for adults that you can sign up for from the comfort of your home. You can also e-mail Mirna for questions on firstname.lastname@example.org