The following content may be uncomfortable for some. If you have young children, please read. Otherwise, go on about your business, there's nothing to see here. This is about helping prevent and catch child abuse.
At a place I use to work, there was a child who told a teacher her uncle wanted to play with her purse. Spotting a teachable moment, the educator encouraged the child to share and take turns. The child became sullen, said ok, and slowly walked away.
Turns out, "purse" was a family colloquialism for vagina. Because the child didn't have the right vocabulary, she was unable to communicate what was going on and received very conflicting messages from a very well meaning adult.
April is child abuse awareness month. Most parents work very hard to keep their children safe. I'd like to provide three simple things you can do to help your kids advocate for themselves, maintain safety, and encourage healing if something were to happen. Most of these can be done at home, with your own children, and can help educate and empower them to protect and/or report abuse to themselves or others.
First: be as comfortable with the words penis, vagina, and anus as you are with the words eyes, ears, and nose. Some people use bathing suit area" or "privates" to describe genitalia. While not wrong, they can lead to miscommunication and potentially teach children these areas are shameful or dirty. While this may not be an issue for young children, the message can become problematic when they're older, curious about their bodies, and don't feel comfortable enough to ask questions because "we don't talk about that". This leads to the second point.
Second: avoid shame. It's easy to accidentally shame children about sexuality when discussing abuse. It can be confusing to know the difference between "it's not ok to have anyone touch you there" and "that part of your body is not an ok place". This may sound trivial, yet it goes hand-in-hand with the first point. In addition, it begins to help children learn that what happens to us, does not define us.
Third: don't abuse children. This one could go without saying, but let's be honest! Children are most often abused by adults. All abusers aren't malicious or evil. More often than not, they're simply overwhelmed, under-equipped, and out done by the vast amount of energy children have. If you need help, ask. If you can help, offer. We want to help kids, so let's start by helping their families.
Lastly: when in doubt, call it out. Teachers, doctors, therapists, social workers, health-care providers, and child-care providers are mandated reporters. This means if we even suspect abuse in children or adults/the elderly, we have to report it to our state child care protection agency. There are state specific agencies, but there is a national hotline and website you can start with here in the United States.
If you suspect, even without proof, a child is being abused, please call 1-800-4-ACHILD or visit ChildHelp online. Thank you.
By Nathan D. Croy, ©2015