The one area of sexual abuse that is not covered by this book is parent on child abuse. While this could be considered a flaw, the purpose of this book is to develop a pattern of healthy conversations between parents and children around sexuality. After much deliberation trying to cover everything, it was important to stick with the intent of the book. In some instances children told simply to tell “a trusted adult,” did so, and because of the dismissive or shaming attitude of that adult, the child chose not to tell a parent and the parents could not take necessary steps to protect their child, or help them through the healing process. Further, it is less likely that parents choosing to engage in parent-child abuse will be interested in this book and its purpose, and any spouse or grandparent can always clarify in those sections (as in all sections) what they want the child to take-away: come tell ME, or add “a trusted adult” and give examples or ask for examples from the child. This helpful follow-up discussion question is found in the back of the book:
- Who are other trusted adults you can talk to when you have questions,feel uncomfortable, or need help? While the purpose of this book is to connect parents and children, having a predetermined network of support and safety for your child is very valuable. You can then consider giving those trusted adults this book, or having discussions with them on how to respond in healthy ways to any disclosure or reaching out from your child.
The one area of healthy sexuality that is not addressed specifically in this book is is the names of body parts. This is an important aspect of healthy sexuality that parents have the opportunity to introduce separately from the text of this book. If you have not already done so, these pages are a good place to introduce the various sexual organs of the body including penis, testicles, breasts, and vulva (not vagina, as that is not a visible part of the female body, although if you want to explain where the vagina is inside that is fine). If you feel uncomfortable saying these words, practice ahead of time so you can be comfortable and send appropriate non-verbal messages about body parts. (Appropriate non-verbal messages are that these parts of the body are just like other body parts. They exist. And they are pretty amazing in their function just like any other part of the body. As you speak about them, treat them as you would an arm or toe). Children should be able to correctly identify their body parts without shame or confusion. This is an important conversation to have before discussions of sexual abuse.
Once you have addressed and are comfortable with names of sexual body parts, you can have more detailed and accurate discussions of sexual abuse. Some of those discussion options are listed below:
- Discuss the situations where they might be undressed in front of others (doctor, siblings sharing a room or a bath, etc.). Tell them why it is okay: you are there, it is for a specific purpose to make sure you are growing properly, siblings of the same gender can dress together, etc.
- Views of what is appropriate and not will vary between families, be sure to communicate your views, and in more advanced discussions you can talk about what to do when they are with other people who do not share those views (for example if in your family you don’t change in front of others at all, but they are at a friend’s house and they are fine changing with those of the same gender, how could they handle that? What are the specific words they can say?—example: we do things a little differently in our family. I prefer to change in the bathroom. When you’re done changing, come out of the room so I know you’re done. If they practice saying it matter-of-factly it will be less likely to offend someone. (Although it is a very important discussion to have that even if someone else is offended, annoyed or upest, it is still completely acceptable to keep yourself emotionally and physically safe.)
- What if someone tries to do something, or show you something that is not modest? What should you do? Walk them through a plan, and emphasize telling you as soon as possible.
- How do you think mom or dad will react if you come to us? Explain that you will protect them, that you will work to keep them safe, that you won’t be upset because what other people do is not their fault.
- When was the last time someone tried to touch your body in a way that was not modest, or asked you to touch their body in a way that was not modest? Emphasize that if this ever happens, they should tell you immediately, especially if others tell them not to. Be reassuring and calm no matter the response. This provides security and keeps important lines of communication open. Teach them they are not responsible for others’ behaviors.
Has anyone asked you to show them your, or has shown you their [penis, vulva, breasts, etc.]? Get the whole story, a little bit at a time, as they’re ready to talk and feel comfortable. Often children will share small amounts to see your reaction, so if you sense something more, gently probe for more details, even if it is over time.