How to Talk With Children About Abuse

Open, ongoing communication with your children goes a long way in ensuring they are physically and emotionally safe so they can continue to learn and thrive. The more open communication you have with your child on serious topics like abuse and personal safety, the more likely your child will come to you for help and be able to say no to potential abuse.

3 ways you can teach your child to stay safe:

  • Teach them the names of their body parts. You want them to know the names of their body parts so they have the words to tell you if something is wrong. When you start teaching your child names of body parts like eyes, ears, nose, elbows, and knees, include private parts like breast, bottom, penis and vagina. Talking with children when they are young helps keep the lines of communication open when they get older.

  • Give them rules about their body. Once they know the rules, they can tell you if anyone tries to break them. Children understand the idea of rules. We teach them rules about crossing the street and not poking people in the eyes. In the same way, we can also teach rules about their private parts. For example, don’t touch them in front of other people and don’t let other people touch them unless Mommy or Daddy knows about it. Teach them to not touch other children’s private parts either. Model the rule: if they touch your private parts, gently remind them of the rule that other people are not allowed to touch your private parts. Teach them it’s not OK for someone to try to get them to do things they aren’t supposed to do, things that scare them, or things that make them feel uncomfortable.

  • Tell them what to do if someone tries to break the rules about their body. If someone tries to break the rules about their body, they should tell you right away. Let them know that they will not get in trouble for telling you and that you are proud of them for following the rules about their body. Teach them that if someone tries to break the rules about their body, they can tell that person to STOP. Also, teach them it’s NOT OK for someone to ask them to keep secrets from you.

A child is six times more likely to tell about abuse if asked a specific question. The proactive parent's checklist:

  • Encourage your child to talk about any sensitive problems or experiences. Children need to be allowed to talk freely about their likes and dislikes, their friends, and their true feelings.

  • Teach your child about their body and the rules for their body. Have personal safety talks with them.

  • Practice safety rules. Give your child “what if” situations and ask them what they would do. It gives them an opportunity to practice the skills they have been taught.

  • Talk to your child about their experiences in YMCA programs, school, sports, mentoring, and other activities.

  • Drop in on your child’s programs.

  • Trust your instincts. Don’t wait to tell the Y or any other organization if something seems “strange.” Speak up.

  • Watch for warning signs of abuse. Listen and watch for signs of your child receiving special attention.

  • Every once in a while, ask your child these questions:

  • Is anyone scaring or threatening you?

  • Is anyone asking you to keep secrets?

  • Has anyone said anything to you that made you feel bad?

  • Is anyone touching you in a way that you don’t like?

  • Encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if anything happens to them.

  • Know organizations’ abuse prevention rules so you can report if anyone breaks them.

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