Educating and Empowering Children Against Abuse
Our PCTV presentations in February and March addressed a topic that has recently received much-needed scrutiny and attention: Child Sexual Abuse. Our guest for these presentations was Dr. Lori Stauffer, Psychologist, whose practice in Hatfield, PA focuses on child abuse. Dr. Stauffer gave us some very important information regarding the who, how and why of child sexual abuse. As a public service, we are reprinting below, information provided by Dr. Stauffer on how to educate and empower your children to reduce their risk of sexual abuse, bullying and other types of victimization. Understanding and practicing these principles can help your child recognize and cope with the experiences of abuse or bullying. Dr. Stauffer can be reached at 215-362-8866 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.hope4families.com.
Empower children by respecting their choices about touches.
• How many times have you seen a child pushed or even forced to hug or kiss someone when they did not want to? Maybe you have even done so yourself. Many well-intentioned adults have done this.
• Unfortunately, each time this happens, a child gets the message—you don’t have the right to say no, you must share your body whether you want to or not. We cannot expect children to then feel empowered enough to recognize, say “NO”, get away from or tell about an inappropriate experience later on.
• We need to help everyone understand the importance of respecting children’s choices about sharing their bodies. By respecting children when they say “no” to okay touches and praising them for sharing their feelings about sharing their bodies, we empower them and help reduce their risk of abuse.
Empower Children by Valuing Them and Teaching Them to Value Themselves
• Give your children the message that they are valuable and that they deserve to be loved, respected and taken good care of. You can say this directly or through your interactions with your children.
• Accept and validate their feelings. So often when a child shares their feelings about a difficult situation, parents will want so badly to help them feel better that they say something like “You shouldn’t feel ___________ because . . .” This inadvertently teaches children that their feelings are wrong or don’t matter. Instead, try saying something like “I understand you feel __________ about _________. Thanks for sharing your feelings with me.”
• Respect your children’s interests. Parents sometimes feel so strongly about children participating in certain activities that they force children to do specific activities or belittle children for not choosing to participate in certain activities.
• Take time to play, hang out and just listen to your children.
Empower Children by Encouraging Them to Tell Rather Than Punishing Them for Tattling.
• One of the most important safety messages that we give children is to tell about not okay and confusing touches and experiences.
• Many well intentioned parents, teachers and other caring adults often teach children that tattling is a bad thing.
• How can we reasonably hope that children will tell about a very difficult issue if we have previously taught them that telling is sometimes considered tattling and that you sometimes even get in trouble for telling/tattling?
• Try taking a problem solving approach to tattling. Thank children for telling you about the problem and ask them what they would like to do about the problem. Ask them if they need your help or if they can handle it on their own.
• Children who are tattling for the sole purpose of getting other children in trouble will stop tattling when they are not successful and you will have used the opportunity to encourage children to tell and to use problem solving skills.
Educate children to reduce their risk of sexual abuse.
• Teach children, beginning at a young age, the proper names for their private parts, just like you teach eyes, ears and nose. Sometimes children tell about sexual abuse using made up names and the person does not understand that the child is telling about sexual abuse, but thinks it is just a silly story.
• Help children distinguish between “okay” and “not okay” touches. Talk about okay touches to help children appreciate the positive aspects of touch. Identify okay and not okay touches based upon rules, not based upon how a touch feels. Using terms such as “good” and “bad” can be very confusing for children and cause a child who has experienced sexual abuse additional distress.
• Help children understand that “not okay” touching is always the bigger or person’s fault.
• Talk about secrets to help children know the difference between surprise secrets that are fun to keep for a little while and secrets about touches that are important to tell.
• Emphasize that most people do not hurt children, but anyone could. People who do abuse are most often people who children know quite well including family members, neighbors, coaches, babysitters, etc. It is important to communicate that to children.
Educate children to reduce their risk of being bullied or bullying someone else.
• Teach children the difference between playful, fun joking that feels good to everyone involved and hurtful teasing or bullying in order to help them recognize bullying. Be conscious that you are modeling this behavior. Teach children that sexual and aggressive touching by peers are “not okay” touches.
• Teach children to handle conflict calmly and respectfully without aggressive words or actions.
• Teach them to express their feelings without threats or put-downs.
• Teach children friendship skills to help them develop a good social support system and to help them be able to recognize bullying when it does occur.
• Teach children the importance of their role as bystanders. If they laugh at someone else who is bullying, they are supporting the bully and helping the bully. Teach them that as bystanders they can give the message that the bullying is not okay by verbally or physically supporting the person who is being bullied or by getting a grown up to help.
Teach personal safety skills.
• Teach children that they have the right to say “NO” to any touch they do not want or they think is not okay. Encourage them to say no to okay touches they do not want and praise them for doing so.
• Teach children to calmly and firmly tell peers if they don’t like the joking or teasing that is occurring. Some children laugh in response to hurtful teasing, which makes their peers think they are enjoying it.
• Teach children the importance of talking to a grown up about problems with touching or words that are not okay or confusing to them.
• Teach children that sometimes they have to tell over and over before someone believes them and helps them.
• Teach skills using role plays and repetition.
What if my child tells about abuse/bullying or inappropriate touches?
• When talking about these issues, children may spontaneously tell about an inappropriate or abusive situation that they have experienced.
• It is very important to stay calm.
• If your child was the victim, emphasize that what happened is not their fault.
• If your child was the perpetrator, emphasize that it is very good that they told.
• Tell them you are proud of them for telling and that you will help them.
• Do not ask a lot of questions. It is not necessary to determine for sure that abuse has occurred.
• Talk to other adults such as family members, doctors, counselors, school personnel or other professionals to determine how to best address the particular situation.
• Call 1-800-4 A CHILD to speak with a hotline counselor and get guidance regarding what to do.
• If you suspect abuse, contact the local child protection agency or police.
• Call your child’s guidance counselor. Guidance counselors are often the best resource for guidance dealing with a peer problem at school and are also often very helpful resources for getting help to deal with abusive situations.
Some Final Thoughts
• As parents we cannot guarantee that our children will never have any negative experiences such as car accidents, severe illness, bullying or sexual abuse.
•What we can do, however, is protect our children to the best of our ability.
• Empowering and educating our children is our best protection against sexual abuse.
• Unfortunately even when we protect our children to the best of our ability, bad things do still happen sometimes.
• If your child has experienced, or does in the future experience, sexual abuse, it is important for you to know that the most important element in helping a child recover from sexual abuse and lead a well-adjusted life is the support of nonabusive parents and family members.
• If your child ever experiences abuse, please find a counselor who specializes in working with children who have been sexually abused and their families.
• Children who have experienced sexual abuse have a very bright future ahead of them, we just need to provide them with love, support and the assistance they need.
Information regarding this topic is featured in this month's episode of OWM Legal Talk. Psychologist Dr. Lori Stauffer (hope4families.com) and OWM Law continue the discussion on child abuse, which focuses on how parents can help to educate and empower their children to recognize and prevent abuse (Part 2 of 2 Part Program). The Legal Talk programs can be viewed on our website at www.owmlaw.com/legal_talk/legal_talk.php.
David A. Megay, Esq. and James C. Kovaleski, Esq., speaking at SCORE business planning seminars on 9/12/11 and 11/7/11 (contact SCORE at 610-327-2673).
David A. Megay, Esq., speaking at Owen J. Roberts Adult Education on 3/21/12 - Real Estate-Selling Your Home, and on 4/11/12 - Starting Your Own Business (contact Owen J. Roberts Adult Education at 610-469-5830).
David A. Megay, Esq., speaking at SCORE business planning seminars on 4/23/12, 9/10/12, and 11/5/12 (contact SCORE at 610-327-2673).
Life Long Learning Program at New Groshenhoppen UCC Church, East Greenville, PA - Kathleen M. Martin, Esq., speaking on 4/3/12 regarding Elder Law, James C. Kovaleski, Esq., speaking on 4/10/12 regarding Estate Planning, and David S. Kaplan., Esq., speaking on 4/17/12 regarding Social Security and Mediation (contact New Groshenhoppen UCC Church at 215-679-2041).
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