I think as parents sometimes we hesitate to discuss certain topics with our children because it is uncomfortable for us. However, kids sometimes find themselves in very difficult situations and do not seek help because they are either afraid to communicate with their parents or they do not know that they should. I want to share a couple of personal examples of why it is important to actively engage our children so that they become comfortable in talking to us.
I was a victim of sexual abuse. I was between the ages of 2 or 3 when a teen age boy who was a family friend would take me to a room, lock the door, and touch me inappropriately. I can almost distinctly remember feeling that it was not right, but that somehow I was at fault too, and so I kept the secret. I do not remember if it was because he told me not to tell anyone, or blamed me for it. I just felt I could not share or tell anyone, especially not my parents. My parents were nice and there really was no reason why I should not have told them, but I did not know that.
There was also another time in my childhood where my preschool teacher would hit me for wetting my pants. I was also around 2 or 3 years old. I was scared of her so I was scared of asking her to use the restroom. In turn I would hold it too long and well she would hit me when I would finally wet myself. I remember my parents would come pick me up early and they were kind with me, but I thought they knew that this woman was hitting me. It was not until many years later that I found out my parents had no idea of what had been going on. I had thought they were comforting me because she had hit me. They thought I was crying because I had wet my pants so they just wanted to let me know it was okay!
A friend of mine’s child was recently a victim of sexual abuse. The perpetrator was a seven year old boy who authorities believe is probably also a victim of abuse. My friend reported it to the police as soon as she found out, but the abuse had been going on for about six months before my friend was able to identify the reason for her daughter’s unusual behavior. The boy had told their four year old daughter that it was a secret and well she never outright told her mother.
What I have learned from these incidents is the importance of teaching my children how and when to communicate with us her parents. The most important lessons I took away from my past is that as a parent, I needed to start communicating with my daughter at an early age and I needed to teach her how to communicate with me. I just cannot assume that she will tell me when something is wrong or when something makes her feel uncomfortable. And I want to implore other parents to do the same with their kids.
My daughter, who is now six, and I talk about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior and when and why she needs to tell me. Inappropriate behavior could be something as benign as a child teasing her or more ominous like what happened to me. If she tells me that so and so was teasing her, I can guide and coach her on how to deal with the situation. If it is something more serious, then I can take the proper steps to protect her. I obviously have to address the different subjects in an age appropriate manner but we do have many conversations on various subjects. These are the messages I have tried to relay to her:
**Identifying appropriate from inappropriate behavior (whether bullying, hitting, teasing, or more serious behaviors such as sexual abuse)
**Inappropriate behavior from an adult or other kids towards her is never her fault.
**Anybody could be guilty of inappropriate behavior and she needs to tell me or someone else she trusts and loves. She knows that even if it is daddy, mommy, grandma or grandpa, aunt or uncle, mommy’s best friend, teacher, doctor, friend at school, police, etc, she needs to tell. I include myself and her daddy in the list because I want her to know that when it comes to things that make her feel uncomfortable no one is sacred and/or untouchable.
**Mommy and daddy do not know everything.
**People can sometimes pretend to be nice to mommy and daddy and not be nice to her. I will not know, unless she tells me.
**We talk about the only scenarios when certain type of behavior is appropriate, “touching at the doctor’s office for a check up when mommy is present” for example.
**Trusting her gut and if someone makes her feel uncomfortable. It is okay in those situations to not be nice nor polite.
**Learning the importance of the word “no.”
**That if someone threatens her or us, that God is bigger than them and protects her and us. When it comes to predators, kids sometimes do not tell when something is wrong because the predator will tell them that they will hurt their mommy or daddy. I make it important for my daughter to know that she does not have to worry about the repercussions of telling because God will protect her and the ones she loves.
**That she is loved and there is nothing in this world that she could do to take my love away from her, and much less, God’s love.
I believe that it is also very important that when children tell us the truth about something, that no matter how shocking, to react calmly and praise them for telling the truth. We want kids to always feel comfortable telling us the truth. We want them to feel comfortable talking to us.
I commend my children to God every day and leave them in His hands. However, I am very practical about a lot of things and believe that it is never too early to teach kids to respect themselves and that they are worthy of others’ respect. I also believe that even if they may never come across a certain situation, that they might be able to help one of their friends or identify it when it is happening to another kid. When my daughter gets on that school bus in the morning, I do not worry. I have prayed for her and I have equipped her with important life skills. In this case, it is the power of communication.
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