April is Child Abuse Prevention month. Roughly one in ten children will experience childhood sexual abuse before the age of 18. It is scary to think about, and awkward to talk about, but as adults it is our responsibility to do what we can for the sake of our children. The good news is that there are practical steps parents and caregivers can take to reduce the odds that their children will experience sexual abuse. With a little education and courage, we can make a big difference!
I have been fortunate enough to interview Feather Berkower, leading expert on sexual abuse prevention, twice on my podcast, Psychologists Off The Clock. In the first interview (Episode 19, click here), Feather describes warnings signs parents can look for that someone might be “grooming” a child for sexual abuse. In the second interview (Episode 84, click here), Feather delves even deeper into how to have difficult conversations, with both adults and children, about this important topic.
Here are a few examples of Feather’s suggestions:
Know the warning signs, and pay attention to “grooming” behaviors like tickling a child who seems uncomfortable, or asking a child to keep a secret.
Trust your intuition, and if you don’t feel comfortable with someone’s behavior, speak up.
Have open conversations with babysitters, children’s youth organizations, friends, and family members about prevention and body safety rules.
Teach and practice the Body Safety Rules with your children, such as that each child is the boss of his/her own body, not touching one another’s private parts, and not keeping secrets.
Play “what if” games with your child to start conversations about these issues.
Teach your children that it’s okay to say no to adults, especially if they ask them to do something unsafe.
Talk openly with your children about sex, private parts, and bodies, using books and other resources as needed.
Listen to your children about small things, so they feel comfortable talking to you about the big, scary things.
Educate yourself about this topic, and spread the word to other parents and caregivers.
I highly recommend attending one of Feather’s live workshops, right here in the Front Range. If you aren’t local in Colorado, her workshops are also available online. You can even arrange for Feather to come to schools and organizations to train parents and staff. When it comes to preventing childhood sexual abuse, we can all to our part!