PROTECTING YOUR TODDLERS AGAINST SEXUAL ABUSE
Protecting children against sexual abuse is something I feel very strongly about, which is why we take steps in our home to teach our kids about things like bodily autonomy, consent, safe touches, and secret keeping.
We have three kids under the age of 4. Because of their age, they are more vulnerable to predatory adults and far less likely to tell someone if they are ever abused.
In the world we live in today, this is terrifying.
Our hope and prayer is that by talking to our kids about sexual abuse and giving them tools to guard their bodily autonomy, we can prevent them from ever being in a situation where they are taken advantage of.
Bodily autonomy - It's your body. Nobody can touch your body unless you want them to.
Consent - You can say "yes" or "no" if someone wants to hug, tickle, or touch your body. (Also, you need to ask before touching someone else's body)
Safe touches - The only people allowed to touch your penis/vagina are mommy and daddy when we are changing your diaper/giving you a bath or doctors when they are helping you feel better.
Secret keeping - Good grown-ups don't tell kids to keep secrets about their body.
1. Bodily Autonomy
Our kids know their body is their own and nobody can touch it without their consent.
I feel like we are constantly reminding our kids about bodily autonomy when they are playing with each other. Honestly, we treat it almost as if it were a toy.
"That is their body. You need to be respectful of their body." (i.e. stop tackling your sister)
Bodily autonomy can be tricky to instill in your toddlers though because they still need help with things like wiping their butts and bathing. And, if you have any experience at all with toddlers, you know they don't always WANT to do these things even though they are QUITE necessary.
So how do we make sure they know their body is their own and nobody gets to touch them without their consent, while also helping them learn good hygiene practices?
I don't have a "one size fits all" answer for you because every child is going to be different, but choices work very well with our kiddos.
"You need to wash your body before you get out of the bathtub. Do you want to do it on your own or do you want me to help you?"
Notice, that statement didn't give them a choice of whether or not they had to wash their body. It gave them a choice of how their body gets washed.
If your toddler is still pushing back, say, "You need to make a choice now, or I will choose for you."
If that doesn't work, make it a game. Toddlers can rarely resist a parent who talks to them with a playful tone and turns washing their body into a game of rapid Simon Says.
We have three hard and fast rules in our house: Be kind. Be respectful. Be safe.
I would say our kids understand bodily autonomy and consent pretty well because we find opportunities every day to teach them about being safe and treating each others with kindness and respect.
If our kids are wrestling and rough-housing with each other or an adult and one of them says "stop," we immediately enforce the stop. They've learned to only say "stop" if they really mean it.
If an adult tries to force a hug out of one of our kids who obviously is not feeling it, we help them come up with the language to deflect it while still being respectful.
"River, if you don't want a hug right now, you need to say 'no thank you' or 'maybe later'"
Usually adults respect their boundaries once they've voiced them. However, if someone doesn't we step in and say something directly to them. (Ugh, this can be soooooo awkward to do, but your child needs to see you advocating for their bodily autonomy also. You're helping them be brave <3).
Our kids also know they need to say "no" or "stop" respectfully the first time, but if the person doesn't stop they can yell or push them off or whatever they need to do to feel safe again. They can do this without consequence from us because, well, they warned you! (sorry, not sorry)
3. Safe Touches
Our kids know only mommy, daddy, and doctors are allowed to touch or see their penis/vagina.
But what if there's a situation where someone else, like Nana, needs to help them if we're not there?
A couple months ago, our kids were staying at Nana and Papa's house for the weekend. One of our kiddos had a rash develop on their bottom and needed some cream. This child initially told Nana she couldn't touch their private parts, which made me so proud. My mom, being the good Nana that she is, respected this and gave me a call to let me know what was going on. I talked to said child on the phone and told them Nana was a safe person to help them put some cream on just this once or if they wanted to do it themselves, they could. It was their choice, because it is their body.
4. Secret Keeping
GOOD grown-ups don't ask kids to keep secrets about their body.
The "about their body" part is important because some secrets can be fun - like "Shhh, don't tell mommy what we got her for Christmas" kind of secrets.
But the "If you tell your mommy I touched your penis/vagina, she will get you in trouble" kind of secrets are 100% not okay because they are about their body.
And the "good" grown-ups part helps their little brains decipher who is a good and bad grown-up. Because let's face it, there are situations when Uncle Billy Bob, who seems like the coolest uncle ever, is actually a pervert who uses his position as an adult family member to abuse his niece or nephew.
Teaching your kids stranger danger is important, but honestly, kids are far more likely to be abused by someone they know and trust than they are a stranger.
Giving your kids a hard and fast rule like "good grown-ups don't ask kids to keep secrets about their body" helps them know what is okay and what isn't, regardless of what position an adult holds in their life.
Those are the things we are focusing on with our kids right now to hopefully keep them from falling prey to sexual abuse. As they get older we'll expand on this foundation and talk to them about sleepovers, friendships, dating, consensual sex, and all that other fun stuff.
I hope this helps you in talking with your own kids about sexual abuse. If you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them!