Parenting To Prevent Abuse
When and Where
It is important to find the right time and place to talk
with children about abuse and its prevention. Sometimes parents
hear a frightening report on the news and fueled by their
own fear, put on their most serious faces and call a meeting
with their children. While this method isn't always harmful,
it isn't the best way to help children learn abuse prevention
Talking about abuse prevention can be incorporated into
everyday life situations. Educators call these "teachable
moments." Parents can begin short and promising discussions
with their children by using cartoons and other children's
television programs to talk about abuse. When a character
is hit in a cartoon or a child is hurt on another program,
parents can discuss what happened during the commercial. Point
out to children that hitting isn't right, that children have
a right to be safe and not to be hurt by adults or others.
This is the first lesson children must learn.
Bully situations at school or in the neighborhood, or stories
children read also present opportunities to discuss prevention.
As children grow, they begin to take on independent activities
which provide moments to reinforce safety skills. When a child
is old enough to ride a bike or walk to a library alone, he
or she gives the parent a perfect opportunity to review abuse
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Finding The Words
Parents may also be concerned that they have to use big
and frightening words to discuss safety skills. Actually the
opposite is true. Words should be chosen for their "low
fear quotient." For example, talking about "safe
and unsafe touching" instead of rape or sexual abuse
is more comfortable, and it encompasses a range of abusive
actions versus just one.
Before beginning a discussion with children, parents should
sit down and talk together. It's important to reach an agreement
about what language will be used. In two-parent families,
consistency can eliminate confusion.
Parents need to become comfortable with anatomically correct
language. If children sense their parents are uncomfortable
with words like penis, vulva, buttocks, and anus, then children
won't use these words either. Unfortunately, children may
need to use these words in order to describe abuse. Many abused
children report that they didn't tell their parents because
they didn't have words for what happened.
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The best way to increase confidence and reduce fear is to
focus the conversation on what a child can do if faced with
a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Parents can approach
abuse prevention safety skills just like they approach street-crossing
safety. In street-crossing, the lesson is on the safe behavior
the child is learning, not on what the car will do.
Applying this logic to abuse prevention is easy. Unfortunately,
many adults tell children all about bad strangers and the
terrible things that could happen. The child remembers how
frightening strangers can be and does not remember the prevention
lesson as clearly. Remember, to focus on the skills the child
is learning and what he or she can do.
Self-confidence plays a big role in our ability to do anything.
If we believe we can do something (skate, bake a fancy desert,
balance our checkbook, become a leader in our church or synagogue)
then we are on our way to success. The opposite if also true.
When we believe we can't do something then we often don't
Children, like adults, must believe in their own abilities
in order to succeed. Parents can help build this necessary
self-esteem in a variety of ways.
After a conversation about safety, tell your children that
you know that he or she will remember safety skills at home,
in the neighborhood, and at school. Let your children know
through hugging, pride in your voice, and actual words, that
you believe in them and their abilities.
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Effective safety skills don't happen over night. Skills
and information learned must be reviewed. Children, like adults,
need "refreshers." Review safety skills before your
child goes on independent activities. In this way, information
will be fresh for the child in case he or she needs to use
Children learn and retain information differently based
on their ages and developmental stages. Parents need to continue
abuse prevention information throughout childrearing, from
preschool up to and including high school.
All children should have a variety of options available
to them if faced with a threatening situation. The following
list should be reviewed by parents and then, when the opportunity
arises, discussed with each child.
Run Away From Danger. Run to school, to a neighbor's,
to a store, or home. Run to the nearest safe place. (Parents
should help children determine all safe locations along
regular routes each child travels.)
Yell Loudly And Don't Stop Yelling Until You're Safe. This strategy requires practice since children learn
that yelling is not okay most of the time. In order to
use a yell in a dangerous situation, adults and children
alike must practice. Time for practicing yells should
be arranged and practiced in the basement or with doors
closed so as not to scare anyone. When practicing with
small children start out softly and get progressively
louder. Young children can be startled and frightened
Define Safe And Unsafe Secrets. Surprise parties
and gifts are safe secrets, they don't make a child feel
afraid. Safe secrets eventually are told to someone. Unsafe
secrets often make children feel scared and uncomfortable.
Unsafe secrets always should be shared with an adult who
Brainstorm The Names Of Safe Adults With Your Child. Safe adults are adults who will listen, believe the
child, and will help. Remember that children need more
then mom and dad. Teachers, Grandma or Grandpa, a friend's
mom, a neighbor; all of these people might be safe adults
to your child.
Give Your Children Permission To Say "No". Many children believe that saying "no" to
an adult is wrong and that they will be punished. However,
children need to understand and be given permission to
say "no" to any adult who frightens them with
requests or demands. We encourage our children to say
"no" to drugs, and we need to support them in
saying "no" to adults who may exploit them.
Your Body Is Your Own; You Have My Permission And
You Have My Help To Take Care Of It.
No one has the right to touch you ina way that makes you
feel uncomfortable or frightened. No matter who
it is, you can come to me and we will talk about it.
Whenever You Have A Problem, No Matter How Scary
Or Embarrassing, I Will Listen, Believe You, And Help. This is perhaps one of the most important since children
often think that no one will believe them. They also believe
that they will get in trouble, or that they will get the
person who is hurting them in trouble. Parents need to
let their children know that they want to protect them
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We hear a lot about bad touching. The newspapers are filled
with stories of sexual abuse. Many parents, especially dads,
worry about touching their children for fear it will be misinterpreted.
Stop worrying! All of us need to be touched. Physical affection
helps us feel love. Hugging and kissing, in non-sexual ways
is important to their development. Hug you children often
- they like to feel close to you. Remind your children that
safe touches like these never have to be kept secret.
Spanking children is controversial. Many professionals say
never spank, while others affirm spanking as a parenting tool.
Certainly not all spanking is child abuse, but if it leaves
a mark on a child's body or if the child is harmed in any
way, then it is abuse. Many child protective service
agencies define spanking or hitting a child with anything
other then an open hand as abusive.
As a society we are learning more and more about good parenting
techniques. Clearly spanking isn't one of them. We expect
children to use their words rather then their fists when they
are mad or upset, but we do not set the same example. Spanking
can send the wrong messages to children who are learning to
handle their feelings and need good role models.
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When you grew up, your mom or dad probably told you not
to take candy from strangers, and that was the end of the
abuse prevention lesson. Today the research clearly tells
us that the great majority of children, perhaps 85% of them,
are abused by adults they know and trust. Often these adults
are family members, youth group leaders, or other adults who
can develop relationships with children over time.
Many prevention programs require children to identify a
"bad stranger", putting the responsibility for safety
squarely on the shoulders of the children. CAP gives
children strategies to use with all strangers, so the
role of distinguishing between safe and unsafe strangers does
not fall to the child.
Children need adults to tell them that abuse from anyone,
no matter who, is an unsafe secret. Children need to know
that sometimes, not often, an adult the family knows and trusts,
might try to touch a child's body inappropriately. Children's
bodies are their own and they must have the right to determine
how their bodies can be treated. Children need to know it
is never right for an adult to touch their bodies in a secret
way. This information will help to prepare children for body
safety throughout their growth and development.
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At different ages children need different information. Elementary
school age children need information about independent activities.
Preschoolers don't, since they should always be supervised.
Teens need information about dating safety, while elementary
school children do not. It is important for parents to use
and add appropriate information which is based on the age
and independence of the child or teen.
Safe, Strong, and Free
All parents want their children to grow up feeling Safe,
Strong, and Free. Parenting is a difficult task. It takes
practice. Communication is the most important ally parents
have to ensure their children's safety. Listening to children
and talking honestly with them is a good foundation for practicing
prevention skills. All of us have the right to grow up free
If you want more information about abuse prevention and
your children, please contact your local librarian. There
are many available books on the subject matter geared specifically
©1995 by the National Center for Assault Prevention.
contained on this page is reproduced from the National
Center for Assault Prevention, with permission. Reproduction
herein of this information is for the information and convenience
of the public, and does not constitute endorsement or adoption
by the State of New Jersey, or its officers, employees or
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