Talking about abuse to young children: Overwhelming but necessary
Childhood is a time for budding friendships, playing in the park, learning new things and discovering plenty of toys. It is every parent’s wish for their child to enjoy their growing years and remain safe and unharmed at all times. It is unfortunate, however, that this wish is sometimes not granted fully. According to National Crimes Record Bureau statistics crimes against children in India have risen by a horrifying 336% between 2001 and 2011, indicating an urgent need to prepare and empower children to deal with situations where they are vulnerable to abuse and violence. While it is understandable for some parents to object to the idea of exposing their children prematurely to issues which may taint their innocence, there are a few means by which they can get the message of personal safety across to their young ones without causing undue overexposure to sensitive information.
Age appropriate personal safety information is currently being taught in a handful of Indian schools, to children aged 3 and older. The sessions involve talking about “Stranger Danger”, a sometimes-controversial term which teaches the children about the importance of not talking to, not accepting gifts or sweets from or walking off with people whom they do not know. While the Stranger Danger games and poems are indeed a valuable means by which children are made aware of boundaries, they fail to take into account the many dangers which lurk within the household.
Therefore, the existing Stranger Danger education could be coupled with the “Trust list”, which is a list of 2 or 3 individuals whom the child trusts, and can disclose potential abuse issues to without fear of being disbelieved or ridiculed. Studies have revealed the prevalence of incest, i.e. abuse of a child by a trusted family member [inclusive of family friends and long-term domestic help], and it is important for parents to first acknowledge and accept this fact themselves. Most unfortunately, a number of cases have been reported to professional child therapists, where children have revealed their fear of disclosing abuse to their parents because the abuser happened to be an uncle or cousin, and on many occasions, a servant who had been with the family for years. The Trust List must be compiled in collaboration with the child, it cannot be people whom you as a parent, would recommend. Many children are comfortable with one or both parents, while some have a favorite teacher or relative they enjoy confiding in. Needless to say, it must be mentioned that the people on the Trust List are not in any way incapable of abusing the child themselves, but it is a gamble which should be taken.
A common exercise used by world-renowned child specialists in order to connect with a child who has been traumatized, involve the use of art supplies and dolls. If you suspect that your child has been through a traumatic experience, or would simply like to explain the concept of personal boundaries to them, use a doll, or a drawing of a doll to highlight parts of the body which are private, and “out of bounds” for anybody unless it is a trusted person [parents, for example] who will bathe and clean them to keep them healthy. While some parents do use anatomically correct terms while explaining this to their young children, it is a matter of personal choice. However, by the time the child is 6, one would recommend using the correct, “adult” terms when discussing private body parts.
Regardless of their young age, it is an unfortunate reality that our children will be exposed to sex-related themes from a young age, and it is best for them to be armed with correct information about their bodies, rather than have a semi-formed idea which can later be misused by a potential predator.
Talking to young children about sensitive issues like abuse is necessary in today’s day and age where children as young as 4 are being lured, manipulated and subsequently subjected to unimaginable horrors which are inflicted on their little bodies and innocent souls. It is heart-breaking to even think about something similar occurring with one’s own child, which is why the implementation of consistent age-appropriate information from parent-to-child will serve as a valuable means by which situations like this can be averted.
If your child knows from a young age, that he or she can trust you with anything, even if the information is “confusing” or “scary”, the open lines of communication and the bond between you, will allow the child to exude confidence and high self-esteem, which in itself will deter an abuser. Talk to your child, it is more important than you think.