The main way we, as parents, can engage our children into a conversation on sexual abuse, is by first making them comfortable enough around us to talk to us about anything and everything. We have to give them enough reasons to trust us, and the reason can’t just be ‘family’. When we earn their trust and act positively towards them, we can converse with them about whatever we want or they want, without any barriers, without making things awkward. And this can happen only if we start when our kids are very young. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk to them about:
• Teach children the proper names of their body parts. Reasoning and understanding is the way to go about teaching a child anything. It is important to teach your child, especially when they are toddlers, the different body parts and their correct names. They should be able to differentiate between private body parts and non private body parts. At the same time, it is important to teach them that their body belongs to them and no one can touch it without their consent. Consent is an important concept that needs to be ingrained in a child’s mind.
• Consent is extremely important. Consent is a two-way street and not a one-time concept. We need to ask for consent and give consent for any action, each time.
o Tea example for consent: One day I asked my friend, “Hey, do you want to drink tea?” My friend replied, “Yes, please.” The next day, I decided not to ask my friend and get her a tea either way but my she did not want any. Consent is like asking for tea: if I say yes to it once, it does not mean that I want to drink it everyday. Each and every action, even if consented once, need not necessarily mean it has been consented for every time. ASK FOR CONSENT REPEATEDLY.
• It’s okay to say NO. Teach children that it is okay to say NO to anything that makes them uncomfortable, even if it is a handshake. If greeting someone by just saying hello is what they are comfortable with, then it is okay to politely say no to a handshake also. Children can be taught a polite way to express their consent. Saying, “No, I am not comfortable with that.” is okay, and it shouldn’t be ridiculed. In fact, it becomes our responsibility as parents not to force them to do anything they don’t want to, and understand why before blatantly asking them to follow such norms.
• Talk about SECRETS and TRUST CIRCLES. Perpetrators use the secret keeping card to gain the trust of a child. Ensure that you gain the trust of your child and make them believe that they can share anything with you, especially if they have been told to keep a secret. Enforcement through punishment hardly and almost never works with a child. Talk to them about trust circles. The inner trust circle (the ones she/he can talk to about everything without hesitation) comprises the mother, father and sibling. The outer trust circle comprises friends and family members who they can trust too, but if anything or anyone in here makes them uncomfortable, they should talk to the inner circle members right away.
• Reassure them often and build their trust to make it stronger everyday. Children have a brain that is extremely vulnerable and malleable. They pick up trust issues from their friend’s experiences. For instance, if a friend talks about the punishment enforcement method of her/his parents for asking questions, the child picks up on it and is scared to ask the same question to her/his own parents. Gain their trust as a parent and reassure them that they are always in a safe zone around you. Be prepared for any kind of question from your child, and always have a calm reaction. Children pick up on the smallest of the hesitations from a parent.
• Lead by example. Parents are a child’s first and foremost role model. Your actions as a parent are very important as the child wants to often imitate you. Share your day’s difficulties with your child in a way that she/he can understand. Talk to your child about feeling sad or tired. Ensure that communicating any kind of emotion is normal and a part of life. Acts of kindness around your child are very important. When you model helping behavior, it signals to your child that this is a normal, positive way to behave; most importantly, the right way to behave.
• Time and tide waits for none. As adults, we want people to listen to us and understand what we are going through. The same way, make time for your child and make them feel that their concerns are as important as yours. Giving them your undivided attention will help in building their confidence and trust in you. This will help them come to you in the future if they know that they will be heard.And once we’ve learned how to earn the trust of our children, we can talk to them more freely about sexual abuse, especially when they’ve become teenagers and are more mature to understand the situation, and more prone to becoming victims. Constantly, engage teens in safety conversations and create a dialogue about topics like safety and sexual assault.
• Talk about social media and ask for their opinion. Ask your child about the recent developments of social media. Talk to them about the news. Watch movies and shows with them, and discuss the positive and negative aspects of them. Ask them their point of view and have an open and friendly discussion. Evaluate everything that’s going on together.
• Experience makes things relatable. Share your own experiences and discuss the changes that are evident. Tell them about the difficulties you faced as a child and the evolution of those aspects. A real story about their own experiences and how they handled it will make them feel more comfortable. It’ll help them understand that anyone can be a victim, and it is important to be aware of unfortunate negativities in the world. Show them that there is no judgment in you and talk freely.
• Pros and cons about the internet. Talk to them about how social media can be a blessing in disguise. Discuss how social media is very important to learn and gather information, and how at the same time it is filled with a lot of drawbacks. Discuss how fake accounts work and why it is wrong. Talk to them about the legality of the concept. Make them aware of how they can fall prey to online predators, and what they should do to be careful. Let them know what all counts as online sexual abuse, so that they are equipped to identify perpetrators for themselves.
• Talk about sexual assault directly. Children may have misconceptions about sexual assault from what they have picked up from social media and peers. Discuss their understandings with them, and throw light on what they already know. Always make the conversation sound like it is a two-way street and don’t come from a space where you seem to know more than them. Mention statistics and facts that make them aware of the frequency of online sexual assaults. Did you know, 93% of the victims who are minors and a victim of sexual assaults of any form know the perpetrator? That’s a staggering number that shows how it isn’t just ‘the stranger’ that we must be wary of. Explain to them that no one ‘looks like a sex offender’.
Please note: These are just some ways and pointers to keep in mind while talking to your child about uncomfortable topics. You could face a completely different response to certain things from your child. Be prepared to tackle everything with maximum amount of calmness.