Friday, April 20, 2012

Protecting Children from Abuse

Recently, I've discovered a bittersweet milestone. My children have reached that stage where they are able to spend time with others, where they can separate from me and enjoy a party, an evening with Grandma and Grandpa, a gymnastic class with their peers or even something as innocuous as running to the backyard with a flock of children on a play date, content to play in the fort or hang out in the sandbox for hours.

With this new independence, how do I continue to ensure their safety? How do I balance their newfound autonomy with awareness of dangerous situations? How do I prepare them for the real world out there without violating their innocence?

I'm talking about personal boundaries, or as most people recognize it: protecting children from sexual abuse. 

But it's so much more than introducing children to the evil and unspeakable! How do I journey into this next step of parenting within the context of unconditional parenting? [Unconditional parenting, similar to attachment parenting, gentle parenting or positive parenting, is about avoiding shame, negativity, punishment, stereotypes, etc and meeting the individual needs of our children, well, unconditionally.] 

In other words, I'm not going to scare them with stranger danger or "break their innocence." 

I'm going to use normal terms because their bodies are normal, not shameful or embarrassing. I'm going to talk calmly about vaginas and penises, but I'll also remind my children that sometimes adults try to use other terms. 

We'll celebrate good secrets, like a secret birthday party. And we'll talk about how bodies don't need secrets and that adults don't need children to keep secrets about bodies.

I'll mention other children, young and old, boys and girls. Violation knows no boundaries; it knows no gender or age limit. I don't want my children to think that they can say no to adults, but that children at the park are different. I don't want my daughter to learn to fear men or for me to fall into a lax state, assuming all people of one age or sex are safe. It's not about building fear in their hearts; it's about respecting their bodies and demanding that respect from ALL people.

Now, my careful decision to use "no" sparingly as a parent comes to light. Now, every time I acknowledged my child's strong will is going to pay off for her. Now, our calm, open and honest relationships will steer us into conversations without shame and negativity. 

I didn't break their spirits and I am making sure they know that no one else can, either.

Here is a quick book review of several books I purchased on this topic. Keep in mind that I have a daughter, 3 and a son, 1.5. They do not attend daycare or other school situations. 

Some Parts are NOT for Sharing
Amazon link:
This book seems suitable for younger children. It is shorter and more like a picture book with simple sentences. It explains that sometimes we share our bodies, such as to shake hands, and sometimes we do not share our bodies. It describes the genitals as "private parts" covered by swimsuits. I found myself adding more to the conversation while reading and also replacing "private parts" with the genital terms, along with adding that they can say NO to ANY touching of ANY body part. If your child is younger than school age and/or if you feel unsure about starting on this topic, this book can help break the ice.

Your Body Belongs to You
I really liked the way this book addresses touching of ALL kinds. This is important because abusers will often take their time, building a relationship and slowly breaking down a child's boundaries. In other words, a wrong touch might be simply touching an arm, or stroking a leg the wrong way, or forcing hugs and kisses that the child does not want. This builds power in the abuser. The book addresses this issue, called grooming, by reminding children that they can say no whenever they feel uncomfortable or do not want to be touched. As an added bonus, the book gives examples of how to do this politely which is a great social skill. So if a stranger touches a child in the grocery store, he can say, "No, thank you." The book assures children that it is okay to say no and that their friends and relatives will be okay. I personally liked this book the most. 
I Said NO!
If your child regularly spends time with other people or in other places, such as daycare, school, with dedicated caregivers and in after school care, this might be a good book for you. It is geared towards older children (as in, past age 2 or 3) and carefully walks children through a variety of possible situations, such as other children bribing a child to pull down her underwear in the school bus or what to do if someone is scary and threatens a child into obeying. I found myself skipping over large parts of it because it was too wordy for my younger children and/or did not apply, or was too negative. 

My Body Belongs to Me
This book is different from the others. This is my 2nd favorite book. It is very specific. In the book, the child, using simple, non-scary sentences, walks the readers through his experience of being wrongly touched, told to keep a secret and then what he did afterwards. No direct violence, graphic words or stuff like that is used, but the story is still specific enough that children will have an understanding of this sadly too common situation. My daughter especially was engaged by this story, empathizing with the child and asking many questions about what to do and what would happen next. It's simple enough for younger children but would work for older children, too.

Protecting the Gift
This book is one of those all-encompassing, transformative, healing and insightful tools that I wish every single parent would have in the home. Gavin addresses the way our culture teaches us from a young age to ignore our instincts or to warp our "good" fears, repressing them and eventually learning to fear the wrong things. He encourages readers to trust their instincts and to retune their senses so that their fear is appropriate and useful. He also addresses details that are important in preventing child abuse. This is the key to his book. I read a lot of things about detecting child abuse or resolving cases when the child tells, but it's hard to find deeper works on how to prevent it. He discusses grooming, dysfunctional relationships, spotting bribery, modeling boundaries and more. Please get this book! Even if you don't find all of it valuable (he discusses how to choose daycares, for example, something not relevant to me) the deeper concepts are still very important!

Online Resources

Child Molestation Prevention Institute:

Tricky People are the ones to worry about:

A list of resources for gentle parenting:


  1. Over 35 years later, I still have issues. I wish books like this were around for me and my parents when I was my daughters' ages. I think my life would have been much different.

  2. This was helpful. I had a weird situation yesterday with an 8 year old girl trying to play with Ella. She kept taking all the toys from her (she's 2!) and then trying over and over to the take one she held on to. I felt weird because...I don't know, I almost felt powerless. Even though I'M the parent. Ella is sensitive to touch in general, and I told her "You can tell her No if you don't want her to take the toy." But then my mind went to: how different is this from someone molesting my child and me doing nothing? I can't explain it, because the girl was just a nuisance and kept correcting me, etc. But what if it had been an adult who kept trying to hold her or something? I sure hope I would have stood in! I want her to feel confident to say no in little situations so she'll be confident for bigger ones. I'll be reading more about this.