When ‘don’t talk to strangers’ is not enough | Instructions Not Included

Maria Chavez Wilcox is president of Childhaven. - Contributed
Maria Chavez Wilcox is president of Childhaven.
— image credit: Contributed

I grew up in a time and a culture where sexual abuse just wasn’t talked about. No stories in the media, no calm talks with parents, no advice columns in newspapers.

Thank goodness, times have changed.

As a child sexual abuse survivor myself, I know how damaging it can be to children and families. I also know how important it is to have caring adults who can help children recover and – just as importantly – who can help prevent sexual abuse before it happens through actions like these:

• Don’t wait. Begin talking to your children about safe and unsafe touching when they are pre-schoolers. And keep the conversation going as they grow. Look for opportune moments – such as a TV movie or news story about child sexual abuse – to reinforce and remind.

• Avoid emphasizing only “stranger danger.” The fact is most children are sexually abused by someone they know. Let your children know it’s okay for them to tell you if someone touches them inappropriately – no matter who that person might be.

• Don’t just tell your kids to say no, make them practice it. Children are conditioned not to “talk back” to adults. Help them feel comfortable by asking them to practice shouting “No!” or “Stop!” with you.

• Ask detailed questions of program providers. Find out how camps, sports teams, after-school activities, etc., train and screen adults who work with children.

• Listen to your instincts. If someone just doesn’t feel right to you, don’t risk leaving your child alone with him or her.

• Stay vigilant. Even when parents do everything right in talking to their kids about inappropriate touching, children can always be vulnerable to stronger, manipulative adults. Look for warning signs like sexual acting-out with other children, sudden fear of people or places, or abrupt changes in behavior like bed-wetting.

• Educate yourself. This article is just a start. Ask your child’s school or pediatrician for in-depth resources to learn more about how to talk to your children and what to watch for.

Maria Chavez Wilcox is president of Childhaven. Since 1909, Childhaven has been a safe and caring place for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Today, Childhaven is a community leader, statewide advocate and national model in the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect. For more information, call 206-624-6477 or visit www.childhaven.org.



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