Together We Heal

Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. We are here to provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal, give direction to those seeking guidance and to expose sexual predators for what they are and their methods of getting into our lives.

How to Talk with Your Children about Sexual Abuse

32 Comments

I was once given some advice from a person much older and wiser than myself: “If a child is old enough to ask the question, they are old enough to get the truth.” There is, however, a way to present truth in a way that neither scares the child nor impedes their ability to openly communicate with the adult about “delicate” subject matter.

The following is a combined list of different suggestions on ways to talk to your children about sexual abuse. The sources for this information are Together We Heal, The Joyful Heart Foundation, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, FamilyWatchDog.com, The Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s: Convicted Sex Offender Web Site, as well as my own personal recommendations based on personal experience.

1) Start Young

Talk openly and often with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse. Keep in mind that if you discuss sexual development with your children appropriately from a very young age, they will not be embarrassed by the subject matter and will be less vulnerable to the grooming tactics of many child molesters.

Children who do not have their curiosity satisfied do not stop asking, they simply start looking elsewhere for their answers. After all, who do you want educating your children about sex and sexuality…you or their friends and Madison Avenue?!? Starting young is not damaging. Parents believe that somehow it is inappropriate for them to be discussing such things with young children. If a child has a curiosity about something, it does not damage them to know the truth. Truth is never wrong! Truth is never damaging! While they are young is a healthy time for children to know the answers. It is the best time. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is waiting until the teenage years to address issues of sexuality.

Rather than waiting until the time in their lives when you are beginning to lose their time and focus to sports, school, friends, etc…confront the issues now. Make sure you spend the first 12 years of your child’s life laying out a stable framework for your children to build their ideals and morals from. Don’t wait until they are 13 and riddled with urges to start addressing the issue of healthy sexual relationships.

The key to this is what my friend and colleague, Rachel Grant, calls “normalizing” the conversation. What we mean by that is, for example, a “normal” talk with your child would be, “how was practice today, or do you need any help with your homework?” So just as normally as you bring up those topics, so also ask them, “has anyone made you feel uncomfortable at school or church today?” “Has anyone approached you or touched you in a way that made you feel upset?” The more normal you make the conversation, the more likely they are to open up to you and talk about it.

Instill concepts when they are young. Confronting the tough issues and morals you would like your children to be instilled with begins at birth, and that includes sexuality.

2) Use Proper Terminology

Use proper names or semi-proper names for body parts (penis and vagina), and phrases like: private parts are “private and special”. Research shows that children who know the proper words for their body parts are less likely to be sexually abused than children who are not. Teaching a child that body parts are so embarrassing and shameful to talk about that they need silly nicknames makes it much more likely that a child will not tell you if someone touches them inappropriately. When a child knows the proper names, it puts a predator on notice that there is an atmosphere of openness and dialogue in a home and that if they harm your child, it is more likely to be discovered and disclosed.

3) Practice

Take the time to rehearse with your spouse/partner or any adult that will give you a truthful critique and be patient. This is not the time to rush through or skim over the parts that make you feel uncomfortable. Just imagine that if you have a difficult time talking with the adult, what will it be like when you talk with your child? Gather resources from organizations such as Together We Heal, SNAP, Stop It Now, RAINN, Survivors Chat, MaleSurvivor, etc., and make notes or an outline. Do whatever makes it easiest for you to remember the topics and keep yourself on point. Throughout the talk, your child will be asking questions that will take you in various directions so it is essential that once you answer the question you get back on track. Also consider that you may not be able to address all questions at once. Be honest with your child if they ask you a question that you do not have the answer. Tell them the truth. Let them know that you need to find the answer and let them know later.

4) No Secrets and No Private time with Adults/Children

Teach your child not to keep secrets and that no one should ask your child to keep a secret from you. Teach your child that there are happy surprises which we are going to tell people about soon (like birthday presents or the ending to a story your brother is reading), but that we don’t have secrets that we’re not allowed to tell and we don’t keep secrets that make us feel sad or worried.

Avoid one child‐one adult situations. 90% of all child sexual abuse occurs in situations where there is only one adult and one child present. When a child is going to have one on one time with an adult, attempt to schedule that time in observable places (like parks and restaurants). Ask your child about how things went when they were alone with an adult, child or relative. Listen for specific details and watch your child’s mood.

5) Create a “Safety Team” or “Safety Network”

Help your child create a list of their trusted adults. Give your child a copy of their list. Make sure their support “network” peoples’ phone numbers are by the telephone with and in a place that your child has easy access to. Once you and your child have made a list, let all the people on your child’s list know that they are part of this emergency network. Let them know your child has your permission to contact them and ask them if they are comfortable with this responsibility.

Let your child know that you will not be upset if they go to anyone on this list when they are scared or confused. It is very common for children to feel that they cannot speak to their parents in spite of a parent’s attempt to ease this fear. The majority of children who report sexual abuse do not report it to their parents. Sexual predators often tell their victims that what is happening is the victims’ fault; that they will get in trouble, that they will be taken away or that their parents will stop loving them and will hate them. Molesters who are related to the child also scare them into silence by telling them that no one else will take care of them if they go to jail. It is very important to talk with your children and reassure them of your unconditional love and remind them of all the people who care about them. When you take away an offender’s ability to keep his victim silent, you take away his/her power.

6) Explain How Your Child is Helping

Avoid scary details. Use language that is honest and age appropriate. Explain that no one should touch a child on the parts of their body that are covered by their bathing suit. Also let your child know that there are exceptions to this situation such as mommy or daddy helping a young child bathe, diaper changes or a doctor examining a child with their parent present.

When discussing sexual abuse with younger children, refer to sexual predators as adults with “touching problems.” These people can make “secret touching” look accidental (such as tickling or wrestling) and they should still tell you even if they think (or were told) it was an accident. This is a way for a young child to understand that an adult has an inappropriate behavior without giving your child nightmares or age-inappropriate details about what the “touching” might entail.

Tell your children that people who have touching problems need special help so they don’t continue to have problems or get into trouble. Don’t describe it as a sickness and don’t say that “bad” people do this, as most of the time the “bad” person is someone who seems good or is known to the child. Do not use words like pedophile, predator or pervert; but rather, refer to “touching problems” instead as this gives the child the ability to judge and tell you about the behavior without the understandable confusion that arises when the perpetrator is someone they love or care about.

Finally – And this step might be the most important…

7) Create a form letter that explains how you have discussed with your child/children about the issue of childhood sexual abuse and list the people in their safety network. Give a copy to each adult in your child’s life and on the list.

By notifying all of the adults in your child’s life (family, friends, teachers, coaches, and parents of your child’s friends), you have in effect warned most potential predators in your child’s life that they will be caught should they target your child for abuse or inappropriate behavior. Sex offenders generally target children where the risk of getting caught is sufficiently low. By doing this, you are telling any would-be offender that your child is prepared and as parents you are involved. If you find it challenging to create your own form letter, we have provided two templates here on the website. Please feel free to print them out to use.

You may either go to the webpage that has both forms – or you can click and download the forms from here:

  1. Form Letter 1 with Contact Numbers
  2. Form Letter 2 without Contact Number

My hope is that you will take these tips and begin the dialogue with your child/children. Remember to do this also…talk WITH your child, not AT your child. Together we can work to give your children the BEST possibility of NOT being a statistic. (1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls are molested and/or sexually abused/raped by the age of 18).

If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us.

dpittman@together-we-heal.org

Copyright © 2013 Together We Heal

Author: Together We Heal

In 2006 David took the first step in acknowledging the sexual abuse that was perpetrated against him from the ages of 12 to 15. During those 3 years, the foundation his family had worked so hard to build within him was destroyed by one man, his youth minister. The result was his heart, mind and faith were lost. After having kept this secret for more than 25 years, he was finally able to reveal to his family and friends the reason behind the addiction and self-destruction that at times had him incarcerated, eventually left him destitute and nearly ended his life. Fortunately he was blessed with amazing friends and a loving family who helped him get the help and therapy he so desperately needed. He was finally able to get clean from the grip of addiction and face the demon of sexual abuse that had clouded his life for so long. Now he and his wife work to aid their fellow survivors through the non-profit they created, Together We Heal. The mission of Together We Heal is to provide guidance for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, educating parents and all adults through public speaking on matters concerning Childhood Sexual Abuse and giving a safe forum for victims of abuse to share, learn and heal. "To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” - Dr. Seuss Follow us on Twitter @Together_WeHeal "Like" us on Facebook - www.facebook.com/Togetherwehealorg Visit our website - together-we-heal.org

32 thoughts on “How to Talk with Your Children about Sexual Abuse

  1. David – this is such a great article and it’s filled with so many great suggestions. These tips not only make the subject more approachable with our kids, but take a lot of the fear out of the situation for parents. The phrase “knowledge is power” comes to mind – you’ve helped to arm me – a mom, with tools I can use with my daughter. Amazing. Thank you for all of the time that went into this.

    • hey missy – i am so encouraged to hear your response as a parent. I wanted to make sure that parents have the tools and guidance to be able to talk openly with their children. As you said, knowledge is power, and only with this knowledge can we hope to arm parents with what they need to put them in the best position to prevent any abuse from happening.

  2. Thank for following my blog, great to see another voice against interpersonal violence and abuse out there. I blog on those issues specifically at http://www.preventviolence.wordpress.com

  3. This article illustrating how to talk with your children about sexual abuse is very articulate and is filled with many great suggestions. It is an important topic to discuss with children, as no incident should go unreported and every child should feel like they can seek help. Our organisation is called White Balloon Support. We aim to inform, alert and direct people to the social issue of child sexual assault to help prevent and support those who had to endure it. Check out our blog – http://whiteballoonsupport.wordpress.com/

    • thank you for reading and getting so much – that was my hope, that parents/educators, etc., would be able to read and apply to their ability to communicate effectively with the children in their lives!

  4. Reblogged this on whiteballoonsupport and commented:
    This article illustrating how to talk with your children about sexual abuse is very articulate and is filled with many great suggestions. It is an important topic to discuss with children, as no incident should go unreported and every child should feel like they can seek help.

  5. Please feel free to share the children’s book Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept. http://www.somesecrets.info An excellent tool to teach kids ‘body safety’.

    • Thank you for sharing your book. I found it to be sensitive to the needs of both abused children and to those it might help protect. I will be passing it along with a high recommendation for parents to use to speak with their children. Bless you for taking the time and care to produce such a book. David

      • Thank you so much for your fantastic work and your kind support for Some Secrets Should Never Never Be Kept. Together we can all work together to keep kids safe so they never have to go through what survivors had to endure in silence.

  6. This is a practical and sensitive approach to preparing children for this terrible risk. I wish I had known this approach as a young mother. One thing I would add though. Touching problems can occur with children of the same age. Children who are being abused will act out this behavior with their peers and so this needs to be part of the teaching. It is still traumatizing and confusing.

    • Hi Maryellen, I’m not sure why my reply from January never showed up so I will repost it. My apologies for not seeing this omission sooner.

      You are right, abuse can come from children at or around the same age and I will be talking about that in an upcoming post. Parents must be just as vigilant with the friends their kids have as they do the authority figures in their lives. Thank you for sharing this perspective with our readers.

  7. David, I especially like the idea of the form letter as a way to protect children. Thanks for sharing this information. I am passing it along to my daughter & nieces who have young children.

  8. I am so glad you and others are finding ways within this to better protect children patricia! That has always been my motivation behind almost everything I write. I just want to help any way I can. Bless you!

  9. David,
    I wish you were around when I was a child and needed you most. My only comfort is that you are now there for our current children ALL OVER THE WORLD, their caregivers, and healers. I don’t know you, but I so love and appreciate your work, what you stand for, your BRAVERY and TRUTHFULNESS. You are a true spiritual warrior, David.

    -Rivka Edery, L.M.S.W
    Author of: “Trauma and Transformation: A 12-Step Guide”
    Available from: http://www.amazon.com/TRAUMA-AND-TRANSFORMATION-12-Step-Guide/dp/1482785099/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_t_1_3RMF

  10. I am very excited about knowing there are people writing, expressing, and spreading words of wisdom in regard to teaching at an early age about sex and related subjects. Thank you so much.

  11. This talk is really important particularly in Africa where the tendency is for the child to be seen but not heard. Talking ‘sex’ here is hush, hush. We do need to step up our act in this area.

    • I’m so encouraged every time we hear that our message reaches a new country and another continent! Please continue to share with others! We are already at 105 countries and still counting! Keep up the good work of educating others!!

  12. David,

    Thank you for the article. I have three beautiful girls. The first one is turning 13 years old next month. I hope I am not yet too late. CSA is a subject that I feel uncomfortable to talk about to my children and I always think to wait for the right time to come. However your article has helped to use the right words when talking aabout this “sensitive” issue to them.
    Thanks very much,

    Carol

    • Hi carol, your words are music to my ears. We have two goals at TWH, and one of them is to help parents communicate w their kids about CSA. If there’s anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask. Also, if you would like a copy of the “letter” I mention to give to the adults in your kids lives, let me know. Peace be with you.

      • Hi carol,

        I will be posting the “form letters” here to the blog this week, so just keep checking back so you can review and use them if you like. I hope they help you as much as I hope they help all parents. Thanks so much!

        David

      • Hey carol, I just wanted to make sure you knew we had posted those form letters to the website. Let me know if you have any questiins about them.

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  15. Thank you, David for this article. I will be sharing this for sure as it has some really great tips to make it that much harder for a perpetrator to target our children.
    I came to the realization last year when listening to a public speaker talk about conscious sex shouldn’t be seen as shameful and ugly, I realized my own views on sex as one of those hush hush subjects could have been a stumbling block to the message I was going to teach my kids. I know now that part of educating our kids about what not to do is also about educating them that sex is a beautiful thing but only with the right person and the right time and only they know when that is for themselves when they are adults. It’s also important to teach our kids to start trusting their intuition from a young age so they know when something doesn’t feel right.

    • Hey Lucia, I completely agree. We must start taking with our kids as soon as possible and educate them on how best to protect themselves. Please feel free to use any of our articles or materials in any way that will help parents, etc. you have my total permission, blessing and appreciation for doing so! 🙂

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