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Talking To Your Children About Abuse

Aug 17, 2007
Many parents find it difficult to talk about child abuse with their children, but it's essential to help them understand the possible dangers and ways to keep safe.

As parents, there are two main things to consider when talking to children about the subject of abuse:
1.Children may be curious about or upset by cases of child abuse reported in the media. Often these cases involve sexual abuse or abduction, but they can be physical abuse or the death of a child.

2. It's important to give children the right amount of information to keep them safe without scaring them or ruining their innocence.

It isn't really possible to protect your child completely from such stories of abuse in the news. Even if your child doesn't hear or see news items in question herself, the playground grapevine will usually quickly fill her in. It's better to be as open as possible, or she may get the facts muddled and be even more worried.

Here are some top tips for discussing such cases:

Pitch any discussion at your child's level, appropriate to their age, development and understanding. For a very young child you may just say something like: "Some bad people did a very mean thing to a child, but you don't have to worry as we will keep you safe."

For older children, you could ask her views. Listen to how much she's understood, and then gently correct any misconceptions.

For much older teenagers, it would be appropriate to discuss what is known about child abusers.

It's important to be available to talk with your child about any concerns she may have. If she's upset by a reported case of abuse, be as reassuring as possible. These cases are very rare, even though it's hard to believe when they're constantly in the media.
Stress that almost all children lead safe and happy lives, and only a very tiny percentage of adults want to hurt children in any way.

Make as much time available as possible to listen to her concerns about anything she's heard and to talk through worries with her. This is most important for older children. Younger ones are likely to be satisfied with a simple answer to questions.

Admit that none of us really knows why some adults behave in cruel ways or hurt children. There are some possible explanations - for example adults having been treated cruelly when they were children - or having a mental illness, but sometimes there's no obvious answer.

Stress that children are never to blame for any abuse, even if they've been naughty.

There are a number of ways in which parents can help to make a difference to their child's safety. From the start, you should build your child's self-esteem and confidence and developing her social skills. You can do this by:

Telling her you love her, and showing how important she is to you.

Spending time doing things she enjoys, while giving lots of praise.

Encouraging her independence with lots of opportunities to try things for herself.

Teaching her how to be assertive - that means having her own needs met but still respecting those of others.

Being available to listen to her fears and worries and assuring her she'll always be taken seriously.

Teaching sex education, including the names of body parts from an early age.

Stressing that her body belongs to her, and she has a right to say what happens to her.

Encouraging cooperation, respect and tolerance between children, and giving a positive example yourself.
About the Author
Joyce Jackson is an educational expert and consultant in northern California. For her latest book and information see Homeschooling Easy.
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