Bad touch situations as is evident are not a rare happening nor are they something that sometimes happens elsewhere. Child sexual abuse or CSA can happen anywhere – in school, crowded shopping malls, playground, even your own home. But there is no cause to be overly alarmed. Good parenting is also all about how you keep your children safe.
So your role as a responsible parent in the all – round development and personal safety of your child is paramount. What you teach them is what will protect them. How you prepare them to handle situations is what will arm them. So apart from providing a conducive social environment for your child you also need to equip them with the requisite skills that maybe needed to protect themselves from such harm. After all, you can’t be with them 24/7 can you? And so how do you do that? You empower them with useful knowledge that can save them. But it also needs to be done without scaring them. So quietly without any fanfare, create opportunities to talk to them either on a drive or a walk or even when the family is together. Work it in normally but first begin with –
1) The Body and its functions: Explain the body and its parts to your child. Start early. Identify them by their proper names as you would with other objects. Once a two year old becomes familiar with its own body and its functions the child will, as it gets older, become more discerning.
2) Some parts are private: Show them which parts are private and gradually tell them why nobody should see them nor touch them. Nor should they – they should be told – be asked to see or touch anyone else’s either. A six year old might ask why. So tell them gently but firmly that their bodies are their own and nobody else has a right to touch them unless they allow it. That’s why some parts are called private and need to be covered. While touching other parts – like head or arm – is good and safe, anybody – unless it is their mum or dad/maid helping them clean up – touching those parts unnecessarily is bad. It is their right to object. This knowledge will help increase their self-esteem and make them feel important.
3) Keep your tone light: Don’t make a production of it. You could work it in gently at bath time for older kids or for the very young when they are using the potty. And do it often but always slipping it in a natural way that in no way alarms them. Emphasize that the ‘no touch’ areas are the chest, the bottom and between the legs, perhaps because they are more sensitive than other parts. You could tell them that it’s alright to avoid kissing on the mouth or even hugging if it makes them uncomfortable.
4) No posing: Tell them firmly – whatever age – that they are not to let anyone see them naked nor let anyone take their picture. It’s for their own safety. That if anyone did this or anything else they felt uncomfortable with, they are to inform you immediately and if you are not available whoever is in their safe circle – trusted teachers, grandparents, close aunts – and keep them in the loop. Also warn them not to use the washroom with anybody present either – whether it is an uncle, cousin or care giver.
5) Trust their instincts: Warn them to avoid strangers – especially those who might want to take them behind bushes /bathrooms/lonely places or want to show them something, maybe puppies or kittens or their own private parts. Tell them they have the right to say ‘No’ or even shout for help. They are the ‘Tricky People’ Pattie Fitzgerald has made famous in her http://safelyeverafter.com/tips.html . In case they are lost in a public place, they should ask a mom with kids for help, never a single man or woman. Also when there are other adults around only unsafe ‘Tricky People’ ask kids for help, she says. And that holds good for your child too.
6) Check with you first always: If anybody, even people they know – like an affectionate uncle, friend or neighbor want them to go somewhere or do something which has not been approved by you, insist they need to check with you first. This rule should be non-negotiable. It will help give them the self-confidence they need to get out of unpleasant situations.
7) Keep communication lines open: Teach them not to be afraid to tell you anything. Even if you think they could be imagining things, give them the confidence to keep nothing secret from you. If somebody even a friend or relative, touches you while playing or once in a while its ok but if the touch becomes frequent or uncomfortable tell me immediately you insist. Always countercheck discreetly to see if it’s true and then maybe take necessary steps.
8) Bad touch situation: In case they should get into a bad touch situation, make them feel they are not at fault. Handle them gently. How a 3-year old reacts to abuse will be very different from a 7 or 8 year old. It might impact the older child more-psychologically. Don’t allow them to feel guilty or ashamed. Here parental guidance is a must. Help from counselors or people/doctors who can advise is essential. Support them completely to help rebuild their confidence and self- esteem quickly.
Just as you teach them safety rules like not to play with fire, not to go into the woods alone, not to accept gifts or food from strangers, the good touch bad touch rule and what to do about it is something you should insist on for your child’s safety and your own peace of mind. These are safeguards that could protect your child’s life.
About the Author
Armed with a Masters in History, Sreelata was an Assistant Editor with the erstwhile Onlooker and World Trade Magazines before teaching History to undergraduates and doing a stint in an advertising agency. Reinventing herself as a web content writer, she writes regular blogs on freelance writing, child development and current happenings for online and print publications. Now established as a children’s writer, her books include Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin. She is also the author of ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’.