Lately I have been thinking about a topic preferably no parent should ever have to think about - protecting our children as best we can against sexual abuse.
I know.... ugh.
It makes my heart break and my skin crawl but unfortunately those feelings don't stop it being a reality in this broken world.
I have been doing some research on how best to talk to my kids about these subjects, what is age appropriate, what do they need to know to best keep them safe, and equip them without freaking them out, etc.
The best little online article on this topic that I came across that shares some information of what kids need to know and also at what ages is here. It is an easy and enlightening read, I highly recommend!
I, of course, have always taught my kids the correct words for private parts and also talked to them (well, it's mostly Lily at this age) about how they are private, and we don't touch other people's private parts or let people touch ours. But I wasn't sure how much further I needed to go and how explicit or 'warning' I needed to be - and my heart just cracked in two at the idea of seeing fear, confusion or a loss of innocence in my sweet girl's eyes. Horrendous to even think about. I'm not squeamish about talking about things that need to be talked about, but I hate the idea of robbing any joy or trust out of an innocent child. Ugh. This parenting gig can be hard!
I also felt torn because, much like the Free Range Kids philosophy, I don't want to cotton wool my kids, freak them out over unrealistic dangers or have them panic every time every time a stranger comes near. My kids have thus far never even met a stranger, as they consider every person they come across (whether dishwasher-delivery man or random dog-walker down the street) to be their new best friend who they want to introduce to their pet fish Greg, and do some colouring-in with. I love this! I want kids free to be kids! Happy, friendly, free to explore the world. And let's be honest, about 90% of abuse occurs by someone known to the family (yes.... shudder) so I don't want to overly teach the whole 'stranger danger' thing as it can be more detrimental than anything (hence they have phased this teaching out of schools now, thankfully).
Anyway.... I came across this quality Australian book called Everyone's Got a Bottom by Tess Rowley, put out by Queensland Family Planning and it came highly recommended (books available for kids on this topic are seemingly sparse) so I bought it and after pre-reading, read it to Lily tonight.
I have to say I was very happy with this book. It follows three kids (two brothers and a baby sister) learning about taking care of their bodies (brushing teeth etc) and talking about their body parts (using proper names) and which parts are private. They talk about how they have a family rule (because rules keep us safe) that no one has the right to see or touch those private parts or show us theirs, and if they do - that is rude and we should say no (even if it's someone we know and like), and we can always tell a grown up we trust if this happens. It has a running mantra throughout of 'From our head to our toes, we can say what goes'.
The book was frank, friendly and casual whilst also being specific and careful. It gave some great practical 'tools and rules' to kids and made me see that those basic guidelines are all kids really need at this age, there is no need to get into anything too explicit or scary - phew!
Lily enjoyed the book and I could tell she was intrigued by the subject matter. I tried to ask a few questions to gauge her understanding without giving the reading an air of ***important topic happening here***, if you know what I mean!! (Sure-fire way for kids to shut down!) We talked about who in our family has what body parts, and how God made our bodies so special and different. I asked her what she would do if someone asked to see her privates or showed her theirs and she gave a very emphatic 'No!! Please STOP!' (with hand held up!), I asked what she would do then 'Tell a grown up like Mummy and Daddy!'. Of course I pushed it by asking what she would do if they said she couldn't tell a grown up and she said very sweetly 'I'd ask - please can I tell a grown up?!'. Um!! It's a work in progress, anyway!
So then we had a chat about how no matter what someone else says, she can always tell Mummy and Daddy anything.... no matter what. We don't keep secrets in our family (only surprises which are nice things like parties and presents) and she can always talk to us, especially if someone makes her feel yukky inside or scared, or does something rude. She seemed satisfied with that and I was too - left it there for now, for fear of over doing it!
The book is aimed at ages 3-8 and has an excellent section in the back for adults on other ways to talk to kids, signs of abuse, and so on. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, the cheapest on line price I found was here.
I feel like the book will be a good resource and launching pad for conversation in our family. Just to read every now and then and open up discussion. Most of all, I aim for open, honest and frequent family conversation so that the kids know they can always talk to us about anything. This is obviously just the start of a life-long multi-faceted conversation. Of course we can't totally protect our kids (as much as want to!) but hopefully by giving them some tools about the rights they have over their body, to trust their instincts and to always know they can tell us anything, it will go some way towards equipping them in self-protection. And of course I fervently pray that these are skills they will never need to use.
Sharing is caring - please post below if you have any tips, advice, strategies or good book/internet/video resources!