When I say grooming technique, I'm not referring to personal hygiene. I'm referring to the behaviors used by people (either repeating what they learned or for malicious intent) to break down your child's natural boundaries and gain control.
All people need to become aware of this ingrained behavior and work to eradicate it to protect children against abuse. Grooming techniques are not fair transactions. They aren't innocent. They aren't funny. Grooming confuses and stresses children, breaking down normal protective barriers and making them vulnerable to abuse.
Even if the person grooming your child claims an innocent-sounding reason, the grooming still makes your child vulnerable to other predators. So for example, even if innocent Grandma is grooming your children because she has outdated parenting ideas or is eager to be adored by her grandchildren, the patterns she sets in motion can make your children a target for predators.
Resist any attempts from the groomer to dismiss your concerns or make you the bad guy. Stand firmly against any grooming. Interfere. Restrict access to your child. Remind your child that any gift offered can be given freely, without strings attached. Remind your child that any threat is false and that you are here to help.
Grooming techniques are not special. Many behaviors that are otherwise normal can become part of the grooming situation. Grooming can include:
Offering gifts, candy, special privileges
Praising, especially manipulative forms that prey on weaknesses
Increasing the child’s status or favor among peers
Tickling, chasing, tagging, wrestling, which are used to break down the child’s will or establish non-verbal authority
Emotional sharing, the act of involving a child in adult or inappropriate emotional intimacy, making the child feel burdened or trapped
Threats to take away privileges, status or goods
Threats to physical, mental and emotional well being
Isolation and extended time together or reasons for one on one interaction
Grooming behaviors are used by anyone, of any sex, at any age. Children and teens can display grooming techniques if they were exposed to them. Peer on peer grooming can occur!
Listen carefully. You will hear grooming right in front of you. The groomer will do this in front of you because he or she needs to test the waters to see how well the parent is guarding the child. Here are some red flags:
”Hey, if you want me to get you a drink, you have to give Grandpa a hug!”
”No, no, let me hold you. Here, play on my phone while I’m carrying you.”
”I don’t know why she’s crying! It was just a tickling game!”
”Oh, stop whining. I’m your cousin, I deserve a hug!”
”Don’t run away now. I can catch you, I’m bigger!”
”Stop saying no to me or I’ll tell your mom here that you’re disobeying.”
In fact, groomers will often try to involve you in the situation. This is a silent show of power to the child. It sends many messages to the child. Involving the parent can make the child trust the groomer. It can make the child think the parent knows what is happening and agrees with it. It can make the child feel as if he has to obey the groomer. It can make the child give up any resistance, thinking if the parent is won over or oblivious, no one will care. Etc etc. Groomers like to use their behavior to send different messages to each person involved. Pay attention and you might find the way someone is acting around your child has more meaning.
Watch your child’s face. Any expression of stress or anger means you should immediately interfere and reaffirm the child’s boundaries. Any cry for help, any crying, whining, any “no” or “stop” must be heeded immediately. If the other person will not listen to your child or tries to tell you to go along with it, put that person on your warning list. You are not a bad parent. Your child is not undisciplined or too sensitive.
Reaffirm your child. Acknowledge whatever they are saying at the moment. "You said no." "You want to stop." "You're upset." "That scared you." Then point out what the child can do, which affirms autonomy and alters the power balance. "You can tell Uncle Jimmy no thank you." "You can always shout no." "You don't have to sit there." "It's ok to stop playing the game." Model and guide until the situation is resolved.
Practice with your child. Take every day opportunities to strengthen your child's boundaries and sense of self. Tickling, wrestling and chasing can all be used to reinforce boundaries and to emphasize "NO" and "STOP." Physical affection and intrapersonal interactions can all be used to model effective ways of communicating and interacting with other people without ignoring inner instinct.
Protecting your child from sexual abuse:
Boundaries for survivors:
Protect your child's no:
More on tickling as abuse:
More on grooming:
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