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Are You Saying the Right Things? How to Talk to Your Child About Sexual Abuse

Learn how to discuss topics like unwanted touching and private body parts

Published on: March 18, 2016

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When you think of a “predator” who is going to harm your children, what comes to mind? The stranger in the park trying to lure your kid with candy? The person in a car demanding your child come home with him or her? These scenarios happen and often get the most media coverage. But most children are sexually abused by someone they know, and often by someone they know very well.

Explaining this to your child, however, is a daunting and difficult task. It’s common to feel uncomfortable and awkward when having discussions about unwanted touching and private body parts. The good news is that you can weave these conversations into everyday life. Here are some suggestions on where to begin.

How to start talking to your child about sexual abuse

Private body parts

When children are young and still need help dressing and bathing, they often ask about their private body parts. Use this opportunity to teach them the medical names for their genitalia (this is good for children as young as 3); research shows sexual offenders are less likely to target children who know correct terminology. In addition, having correct terminology gives children the tools to describe their bodies and to tell someone about abuse if it happens. 

Ways to stay safe

Talk to children about sexual abuse in a comfortable, natural way by making this topic part of your regular conversations about safety. Your family safety rules could cover crossing streets, wearing helmets and inappropriate touching. For example: “Always ask for permission before taking something from someone or going somewhere with someone” can naturaly precede “Nobody can touch your private body parts or make you touch theirs or anyone else’s.”

Remind your children that if anyone’s behavior makes them feel uncomfortable, they should say no, walk away or otherwise refuse the behavior. Tell them “no secrets” even if someone they’re close to tells them not to tell anyone. 

Repeat and review

Talking about safety for private body parts isn’t a one-time conversation. Make sure your children learn the rules and skills to keep them safe by repeating them during everyday family activities. Like with any rule, children need frequent reminders and practice.

To help protect children from sexual abuse, discuss it in ways they’ll understand — even if it’s awkward. One important point to make: Tell your child to keep telling adults about any abuse until someone helps them and the abuse stops. 

As a parent, keep talking about sexual abuse and keep asking questions. The more you ask, listen and talk, the easier the conversation gets.

For additional resources: Click here to view short videos that provide simple, actionable tips and a guide about how to talk to kids about body safety.

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