4 Ways to Teach Children to Self-Protect Against Sexual Abuse

Did you know that over 90% of perpetrators are close trust adults to the child? 90%! So where did this phrase ‘stranger danger’ come from when 90% of the danger is not coming from strangers?

It’s time we start to reframe our thinking around how we can keep our children safe and ways we can teach them to protect themselves. Because, as much as we would like to be there 100% of the time to protect them from all the bad things, we can’t. But we can teach them things that we hope will help them protect themselves when we are not around.

Today’s kids are growing up in a cautious and careful time, where their ability to develop independence and autonomy is hampered. There are NO pointing fingers on this although when it comes to kids – society likes to point the finger directly at all the moms. I mean it’s just become standard to blame women for all the things parenting, right?

The way I see it? Is that society has bombarded all of us with so many confusing messages around child development, it’s no wonder we’re all just trying to keep our children safe from the world. The thing is, the world is where our children develop this independence and a sense of self – a sense of their own interests, abilities, and capacities.

And we can’t always protect our children 100% of the time. But what we can do? We can teach them the skills and knowledge they need in our to protect themselves. And some things will be easy to let go and let confidence grow in our children like letting them use a sharp knife or letting them stay home alone while you run an errand, or letting them jump in the mud on a rainy day. Others may be uncomfortable and awkward to teach like teaching them the real terms of their body parts, or that no one is allowed to touch those body parts, or that it’s okay to say no when it involves your privacy and body.

Lenore Skenazy, from letgrow.org, says we want to empower our child to do 3 things (to help them protect themselves) – register, resist and report.

  • Register when someone is crossing a boundary with them, no matter who it may be.
  • Resist that they are allowed and empowered to fight back, say no, hit, scream – whatever it is they need to do.
  • Report to their parent what happened without repercussions – this is managing your own anger at that moment and being supportive of the disclosure.

It’s important to remember those three things when talking about empowering children to be capable of protecting themselves against unsafe people or situations.

In my latest Coffee Talk “Empowering Children to Self-Protect Against Sexual Abuse” I talk about 4 ways you can start to teach and empower your children to self-protect against sexual abuse:

#1 Use real terminology when talking about body parts.

I know for some this can be an awkward and uncomfortable conversation. But we need to empower our children by having the proper terminology (such as; penis, vagina, vulva, breasts). Part of the ‘grooming’ process of a perpetrator is to use ‘cutesy’ words instead of the proper terms – as some sort of ‘code word’ or to make it fun. But if you raise your children to know the proper terms, and ever find them using the ‘cutesy’ words for their body parts than you will know that something is up.

#2 Don’t focus on ‘stranger danger’

If 90% of perpetrators are well known to your child than the teachings of ‘stranger danger’ actually don’t work. Instead, we can teach them that no one is allowed to touch our bodies beneath our clothing and that no one is allowed to touch your body if you tell them no.

#3 Respect your child’s boundaries

We don’t need to force or children to give hugs when they refuse. When we encourage our children to hug (after they have said no) we are telling them that it’s okay even though their intuition was saying ‘I’m not sure about this person’. Because mom and dad (or auntie and uncle) said it’s okay, this person must be a safe adult. We need to respect kids ‘no’s’ and trust that there’s some intuitive thing going on with them and they’re okay to not be forced into this physical space because an adult is asking for it.

#4 Manage your own emotional reactions

Children of sexual abuse will sometimes sprinkle in some disclosure of what has happened, a way of testing the waters to see if it’s safe to tell you. When this happens, we might find emotions of anger arise and want to use that to defend what is going on. But by doing this we are shutting the child down and limiting their trust with us to bring it up again. It’s important to be as calm as possible and really think about what is actually happening here, what is my child trying to tell me?

Watch the full video here for more tips and advice on how to empower your child to self-protect against sexual abuse.


Journal Prompts

(for building confidence & independence in children)
  • What was I able to do at my child’s age? When was I using a sharp knife?
  • What do I do for my child that they can do for themselves?
  • How can I increase my child’s independence?
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