Possibly Educational

How to Talk to Kids about Sexual Abuse

A friend messaged me earlier this week because her sister-in-law was wondering about how to talk to her 7-year-old daughter about body safety.  I rounded up a couple handouts I had stowed away, and as I looked through I realized they were missing some important parts.  I’ve been wanting to jot down some of the main points of Good-Touch/Bad-Touch before I forgot it anyway, so this gave me a good excuse to do a brain dump on what I used to teach on a daily basis. 

All these concepts come from the Good-Touch/Bad-Touch curriculum (by Pam Church).  Childhelp has since phased out GTBT and replaced it with a similar program called Speak Up Be Safe.  If your kids have the opportunity to participate in either of these programs I highly recommend it.  However, if that’s not an option in your area, here are some talking points in kid-friendly language so you can feel more comfortable discussing it with your kids.

A few things for parents to keep in mind:

  • Kids don’t have the same emotional response to sexual abuse that adults do.  They simply don’t know enough about the logistics of intimacy to have that spine-crawling reaction adults get when talking about sexual abuse.  When kids learn about sexual abuse, they put in on about the same level as stepping in dog poop, which is where it should be.  Kids should think sexual abuse is gross and something to be avoided, but nothing to be scared about.
  • When talking about sexual abuse, tone is everything.  If there’s a scared or nervous tone to your voice, you bet your kids are going to pick up on that.  And that’ll make them scared about it too.  Keep your voice (and face) conversational and calm—as if you were talking to your kids about first aid or fire safety.
  • Parents may worry about preserving their child’s innocence.  However, when it comes to safety, innocence is not the thing to shoot for.  Kids need to know that sexual abuse is wrong, and what to do if they have a problem with it.  Innocence on this matter does them no favors.
  • Don’t feel like you have to make talking about sexual abuse this huge, all or nothing conversation.  Take it bit by bit and slip these concepts into normal conversation with your kids over time.  Do what you’re comfortable with.  Remember, if you’re uncomfortable, your kids will be too.
  • These concepts and terms are geared toward 5-7 year olds (which is a good time to start talking about sexual abuse), but you can adapt the same ideas to be appropriate for kids older than that.

Terminology

Sexual Abuse: When someone tries to force or trick a child so they can touch a child’s private body parts. Or, when someone tries to force or trick a child into touching the private parts of another person’s body.

Force: When someone makes you do something you don’t want to do or don’t understand.

Trick: When someone fools you, lies to you, pretends, calls something a game that really isn’t a game, or tells jokes that really aren’t funny. A trick makes you feel sad or angry.

Private Body Parts: The parts of your body that are covered by a swimming suit. It’s the parts between your legs in the front and back, and also your chest.

Good Touches: Touches that feel good on your body and make you feel happy and safe. Good touches make you feel like smiling.

Bad Touches: Touches that hurt our bodies, like hitting, kicking, or scratching.

Confusing Touches: Forced or tricked touch of private body parts—sexual abuse. These touches are confusing because sometimes they feel soft like a good touch and sometimes they hurt like a bad touch, but confusing touches always make you feel sad or scared.

Safety Rules

  1. It’s my body! I decide who I want to share my body with and how I want to share it.
  2. Listen to the Uh-Oh Feeling! If I feel like something is wrong, I’m always right. Sometimes I need to ask questions.
  3. Say NO and get away! I have the right to say no and get away if anyone tries to hurt me or sexually abuse me.
  4. Tell someone! If someone tries to hurt me, I will tell an adult I trust. If that person doesn’t believe me, I will keep telling until someone believes me.
  5. It’s NEVER my fault! No matter what, if I am sexually abused, it is never my fault.

Other Important Concepts

I am Special: Being special means that there is nobody else in the entire world exactly like me. Being special also means that a lot of people care about me and want me to stay safe. It’s important to remember that I only have one body, so I need to take very good care of it.

Good Force vs. Bad Force: Sometimes parents make you do things you don’t like, but are good for you—like cleaning your room, eating vegetables, or going to bed. This kind of force is good force because it doesn’t hurt you. When someone makes you do something that makes you feel yucky, sad, or scared, this is a bad kind of force. If you don’t know if something is good or bad force, talk to an adult you trust about it.

An Example of a Trick: Pretend your brother or sister tells you they’ll give you your favorite candy bar if you clean their room for them. So you clean their room, then you go to your brother or sister to get the candy bar. They say, “Oh, I’m not really going to give you a candy bar. I just wanted you to clean my room.” This is a mean trick.

What is the Uh-Oh Feeling? The Uh-Oh Feeling is a little friend that lives in your tummy. It lets you know if something is wrong or if you need to be careful. You can feel the Uh-Oh Feeling for a lot of different reasons. You might feel it if you can’t find your mom at the store. Or you might feel it if you broke someone else’s toy. But most importantly, the Uh-Oh Feeling will let you know if something is a confusing touch. If you feel the Uh-Oh Feeling, it means it’s time to talk to an adult you trust and ask questions.

On Promises: Most promises are good, but if someone asks you to promise to do something that makes you feel the Uh-Oh Feeling, that sounds like a bad sort of promise. Talk to an adult you trust if a promise doesn’t make you feel good.

Bad Secrets vs. Surprises: Surprises are fun for everyone, and nobody’s feelings get hurt. With surprises you keep something a secret for a little while and then make someone happy by surprising them with the secret. Bad secrets are different. They are not fun for anyone and will make you feel the Uh-Oh Feeling. If something is supposed to be a secret forever, that’s another clue that it’s a bad secret. If someone asks you to keep a bad secret always tell an adult you trust.

On Disobeying Grown-Ups: Most grown-ups are good people that want you to be safe, and most of the time it’s a good idea to obey grown-ups. But if a grown up tries to sexually abuse you, it’s ok to say no to that grown-up. If a grown-up asks you to keep a bad secret or make a promise that makes you feel yucky, it’s ok to tell a different grown-up you trust about it.

Who Sexually Abuses Kids? Someone who sexually abuses kids can look like anybody. It can look like either a boy or a girl. It can look like an adult or another kid. They can look mean, or they could look nice. It can be a stranger or someone you know. Most of the time kids are sexually abused by someone they know. It isn’t ok for anyone to sexually abuse you, even if it’s someone you know or like.

Discriminating Between Helping and Hurting: There are times when adults may look at or touch a kid’s private body parts, but it’s not sexual abuse. When a baby needs a diaper change, this is not sexual abuse. It’s not tricking or forcing—it’s helping. Sometimes moms, dads, doctors, or nurses need to look at or touch private body parts when a kid is hurt or sick. This isn’t sexual abuse either, because they aren’t forcing or tricking. They are helping. But if someone says something like, “Let’s play a game where we pretend I’m a doctor and I look at your private body parts,” this is a trick, because looking at or touching private body parts is never a game.

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