Imagine a situation like this…
You switch on the TV to catch the news…
The news reporter on screen talks about a molestation / sexual abuse case.
Your child who happens to be in the same room, asks you out of curiosity…
“Appa/Amma, what is molestation?”
What do you tell him/her…?
And how do you answer this?
Well, before we head there…
Here’s why you should:
Sexual abuse is a burning issue that has to be addressed at home TODAY.
With an increasing number of such news doing the rounds, it is inevitable that your child will come across words such as ‘rape’ and ‘molestation’ in some way or the other.
And before they hear information from the wrong sources, it is essential to address them now.
And that’s not all…
Here are some facts:
1 out of 2 children face sexual abuse in India.
52% of child sexual abuse happens to boys.
88% of child sexual abuse cases are caused by trusted family members and most go unreported.
But this number can go down…
IF parents break the taboo and TALK to their children about sexual abuse, educate them about boundaries and respect private space, and encourage them to communicate their troubles.
We approached parents asking what they would do if their child asked them what molestation / sexual abuse means.
Here’s what they said…
A lot of them replied saying sexual abuse is an important discussion to have with a child… but also admitted that they weren’t aware where to start or how to tell their child what sexual abuse means.
Some parents said they weren’t willing to speak about it to kids since children are too sensitive at that age.
So we did some research and spoke to experts, authors and parents on how to address children about sexual abuse in the right way.
And from a collective understanding, we found that, for parents, all it takes is just 4 simple steps to open communication with children.
- Start the conversation
- Explain sexual abuse
- Create an action plan
- Become an approachable parent.
So let’s break down each step and take a look:
Step One: How to start talking to your child about sexual abuse
Vidya Ragu, psychologist, learning and development specialist from Chennai says, “Let go of the myth that children will not be able to understand and that there is a right time to talk about it. In our experience, even a 3 year old understands, so there is no right time.”
But before that, do your background research!
Gayathri Rao, counselor from YourDOST states, “The first step is that as a parent, you need to understand the issue in entirety first. It is very important to not give wrong information to the child. If you as a parent, realize you are uncomfortable talking to your child about it, rope in a trusted family member or even the family physician or a child psychologist or the school counselor to explain it in a sensitive way.”
And not just that…
“Always stick to the truth and facts. Make efforts to overcome your shyness on these topics. Use labels/words that describe body parts as they are.”
How should you talk?
Anahita Irani, a teacher and lifestyle blogger from Mumbai suggests, “Never be nervous to talk to a child. Look into their eyes and speak with a soft tone. Time to time, reassure them!”
When should you start?
There’s no better time than TODAY! But how much to tell? Gayathri Rao explains, “The depth of the explanation should be proportionate to the age of the child. With younger children, it is important to educate them about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ for both boys AND girls.”
Garima Nag, who is a popular Indian blogger says, “Slightly older kids should be explained the meaning of consent & physical intimacy in an understandable way. As the word rape & molestation keep popping up on TV channels & newspapers, children are bound to get curious. Parents must talk to them in a manner that they don’t feel embarrassed or confused.”
And talking to kids do not depend on one particular gender alone. Children of both genders are prone to sexual abuse. Mother to a son and daughter, and founder of Fabulous Mom Life blog, Lata said she has spoken to both kids about safety in terms of good-touch-bad-touch and consent. “In an age appropriate manner, I explained to them the basics of right and wrong. In easy examples, I told my son about the importance of ‘consent’.”
According to Anamika Sureka, founder of WiseShe, “Make them understand how to say NO. Also, make them aware that no one should touch their private parts and if someone does, then they should not feel guilty about it.”
Rachna Parmar, an award-winning blogger and content strategist, says “Teach them that areas like their groin, chest, butt etc. (by demonstrating) must not be touched even by parents or relatives except while bathing them (very young kids).”
Sid Balachandran, a popular parenting blogger and writer says, “Personally, we’ve started teaching my son about good touch and bad touch and telling him not to let anyone touch him anywhere he doesn’t want to be touched – no matter who the person is; and also respect others when and if they say that they are uncomfortable”.
Vidya Sury, a writer and parenting blogger says, “When my son started school, we wanted to “educate” him in an age appropriate way about being careful about the “bad touch”. But the media overtook us and we found ourselves facing the question “what is rape” from our precious 3 year old.
We told him that rape is when someone forces another person to touch their private parts or forces themselves on someone. Of course he wanted to know why.
We had to say that some people get a kick out of invading others’ boundaries even when they say no, and enjoy treating others badly and being mean. Then he wanted to know what he should do if someone did that to him. We recognized a golden opportunity to explain what private parts are and why he should be wary of anyone giving him the “bad touch”.”
And that brings us to the next step!
Step Two: How to explain sexual abuse to a child
Go down to your child’s level and explain the topic creatively!
According to Vidya Ragu, it is important to not make the conversation fear-driven for your child. “Instead look at how to do it in fun ways. Some things that can be done are, engage kids with worksheets where you have body parts drawn out, you talk to them about it, and ask them to mark them. Another could be to give them different shades of colours and ask them to colour out different private parts.”
Here’s a worksheet we found by Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force — it contains a bunch of activities that introduce kids to good touch, bad touch, voicing out, etc. Click here for the worksheets >>
“You can also initiate the conversation through a puppet show — you can get creative around this. You can enact and show them. You really need to go down to their level and make it fun for them to reinforce that every individual has private parts and they’re special for everyone. So neither should they allow anyone to touch them or hurt them, nor should they go and touch any other individual’s private parts.”
Shelja Sen, author of ‘All you need is love: The art of mindful parenting’ and child psychologist says, “Kids need to know the difference between safe and unsafe touch. Steps you need to take if children feel unsafe — role play and rehearse.”
Gayathri Rao suggests using story cards! “Stories with animals and pictures could be used to help children relate to it and understand better.”
“There are comic strips or graphic representation that can be used for the purpose.” says Garima Nag.
Zainab Attari, entrepreneur and founder of Chimerical Creativity adds, “Maybe narrate the beauty and the beast story with a little twist and turns where there are some beasts who indeed are bad and there are some princes who are also bad. Only if we let the children see the world for what it is, will they believe and accept it.”
Step Three: Set up an action plan!
Gayathri Rao emphasizes that it is essential to talk to your child about what they should do if they are a victim or a witness or perpetrator.
Children should be taught that they are in-charge of their body and should be free to yell or shout when anyone touches them inappropriately, tells them to touch their body parts, or calls them a bad child if they refuse to. Teach your child to say NO and immediately run and inform an adult they trust.
Rachna says… “Teach them to scream loudly if someone does that and to run to a teacher or parent.”
Vidya Sury shares what she told her son, “We told him to let us know if someone tried to touch his private parts or wanted to look at them, or if someone tried to show theirs. We taught him to say NO, and told him not to feel scared if he was uncomfortable. And most of all, to let us know immediately if someone threatened him and asked him to keep it secret. What about the doctor, he asked. We said it was okay if it was providing care, and to make sure we, or someone he trusted, was around.”
Step Four: How to be an approachable parent
We as parents need to open all channels of communication at home to enable an approachable environment.
Vidya Ragu says, “where children get stuck is, the simple word called ‘secret’. Because we don’t talk about it, they feel it is something to not talk about, and that it’s a taboo.
Instead of shooing them away saying, “this is not for your age” or “that’s not for you”, let’s listen to them, and maybe tell them, “I’ll find out and tell you” and find out a better way to address it rather than just sending them back. It is essential for us as parents to build the communication.
And the most important part is, there might be issues the child has gone through or may have experience and at that point of time it is very essential for us as parents to enable children to come back and talk to us and especially reinforce that it’s not the child’s fault. And it’s completely fine and they’re safe and we’re going to handle it.
Apart from that it is hitting on the fact that it’s not their fault and keeping the responsibility of ensuring that their self-concept and self-identity is not hurt and this can be done with a lot of affection lot of open communication and lots of listening.”
Rachna adds, “Have regular conversations and ask pointedly if they have been touched inappropriately. Also look for body cues in case they don’t directly tell you.”
Shailaja V, a parenting blogger and senior editor at Buzzing Bubs suggests, “Explain that molestation is a serious offence and it’s good to always tell a trusted adult if they see/experience anything they are not comfortable about.”
Vidya Sury explains, “We made sure we were there for our son, and stayed involved in his life, his friends. We assured him that he could tell us anything.
In spite of all this, we would hear accounts of how the “autorickshaw driver kissed only the girls” or the bus driver insisted on lifting the girls to “help” them get on the bus and so on. It is a scary world out there, and parents must always be connected with their child to talk to them and make them feel safe, because even listening to something that happened to someone else is traumatic and induces fear. And of course, there’s always the media with graphic details!”
Wouldn’t you agree? 🙂
All children, irrespective of their age and gender, must be made aware of what is right, and what is wrong.
Research has found that children who are aware of private boundaries are less likely to be abused. They will also learn to respect others and grow into better human beings.
And the more you build communication with your child, the more they are likely to inform you in the case of any abuse.
There are many parents out there who don’t know how, when and where to start educating their child about this issue. So if you find this article useful and think it will empower parents out there, feel free to share it.
One share on your part can protect a lot of children out there.
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