Being a parent is the MOST. It is the job we have that is the most challenging, the most difficult and the most rewarding and yet, we receive very little training on how to do it effectively, especially when it comes to sexual abuse.
As a Grammy to a 3-year old grandson and the mother of two grown children, I fully understand the complexities of being a parent and what it means for them to feel safe.
Not only am I a Practitioner who works with adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse, I am also a survivor of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. During the 52 year case study of myself and working with clients, I have contemplated, studied and watched the effects of abuse on children as they mature into adults.
Our children are like “case studies” in that we try this and experiment with that and have no real idea of how it will effect our child or the outcome until years later.
The sad truth is we cannot physically protect our children every minute of every day. We also cannot create such fear in them or ourselves that we rob them (and us) of a happy life. So what do we do?
After careful consideration, I believe these three ways are the most effective things you can do to protect your child from sexual abuse.
1. EDUCATE YOURSELF
Educating yourself is a preventative measure for you and your child. This education must be deeper than what you might hear on television. Read books on the subject, attend seminars, watch documentaries, research statistics and scholarly articles. One of the most important pieces of education you can have is to understand that most sexual abuse against children is from someone the child knows and trusts. Educating yourself gives you a basic understanding of how, when and where your child could be at risk.
2. EDUCATE YOUR CHILD
Educating your child starts immediately. The attention span of a child is going to be different at every age and every stage of maturity. Based on the maturity level of the child, will depend on the type and method of education. Teaching a child about their body and appropriate touches helps them become familiar in a non-scary or threatening way. It just becomes part of how you teach them. There are teachable moments every single day. When we begin to teach children about their bodies, intimacy and sexuality, we must also be mindful that they will grow to be adults where sexuality is a natural part of being human. How we teach our children impacts their safety as well as their healthy functioning as they become adults.
3. EMPOWER YOUR CHILD
Children need to know that they have the power to say “NO” when it comes to their body. When they need to talk, it is vital they know you will HEAR them and BELIEVE them. It is imperative they know YOU are not going to become embarrassed or scared of them talking to you.
As a child, it is difficult to know that your parent is uncomfortable with their own body and sexuality. Children need to know that you are a safe space for them and can handle whatever they bring to you.
There are no guarantees that you can protect your child. There are no guarantees that your child will never encounter someone who is harmful. Focusing on what you can do is empowering. Remember to educate yourself. Educate your child. Then, empowering your child so they know what to do in the event they are placed in an uncomfortable situation.
If they are the victim of sexual abuse, it is imperative that they have a loving parent (or other adult) who will help them navigate, process and release the feelings they have about the abuse. Holding these feelings, feeling guilty or shamed about what has happened to them, dis-empowers them and continues to hurt them throughout adulthood.