Teaching our kids about privacy
The world is messy--evil is out there. The recent news articles are evidence to this point! And while we can’t shelter our kids from everything, we can do our best to prepare them for situations. One thing that sends a chill down my spine is sexual abuse. It is diabolical. It is complicated. It causes irreparable damage. Do you know what constitutes as a sexual offense? The definition of sexual offenses in Ohio can be found here.
Too many of our children are being victimized and sent into adulthood with a wound that is so incredibly deep that it will take years, if given the chance, to heal. I work with many survivors and I’ve heard too many stories of people who were victimized because they weren’t prepared or protected. The blame will always be passed to the abuser, but I DO believe that as parents we can do more to protect our children from sexual abuse. We can’t be naive. Children of every race and every socioeconomic status are being victimized.
Let me take this opportunity to say that if you know or even suspect that a child is being touched, photographed, groomed or in any other way abused you must report it immediately. Call your local child and family services. If you don’t have the information just call the police, a hospital, or 911. Someone needs to know and intervene for that child. If you aren’t sure whether or not to consider it abuse, call anonymously and ask questions. They will tell you whether a formal report needs to be made.
I’ve talked to many parents who feel uncomfortable and unprepared to talk to their kids about their bodies or knowing how to protect them so they just don’t address it! This CANNOT happen. This post is not an attempt to scare you or shock you. This is an attempt to give you information so that you can CONFIDENTLY teach your kids about privacy. My hope is that you will never be afraid to talk to your kids, for the next 18 years, about privacy. Here are 6 ways to teach your kids about privacy, and to keep communication open about this topic. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start. Until they reach adulthood, children need a safe place to talk about their bodies, sex, and privacy. Let’s be that safe place for our children!
- Name the parts. As early as possible, give private parts a name. Some parents will only use anatomically correct names-whatever it is, make sure that this name is ONLY used for private parts. In our house we use (pee-pee, butt, boobs). If your child ever tells you that someone touched their ____ you need to know what they’re talking about. The name will differentiate this part of the body from others.
- Teach the word and concept of “privacy”. Children need to know that guarded alone time while bathing, changing, or toileting is appropriate, expected, and should be respected. Parents need to model privacy at home. I know that as a mom of littles, it is difficult to get alone time especially in the shower or while using the toilet. However, this is a great time to start using the phrase “I need some privacy”. We started using this phrase early and when we say it, everyone (even our dog) leaves and shuts the door. (They might walk back in…) but at least they are beginning to understand that there are certain times that we need to be alone and the term “privacy” is appropriate, polite, and effective. Moms and dads--get a lock for your bedroom door--children know more than you think…have some privacy.
- Make it different/special. You don’t need to be afraid to bathe/wipe your children. However, this is a great teaching opportunity. I talked to one mother who mentioned that their husband wouldn’t bathe their children because he didn’t know how to address the child’s private parts. Let’s start with using a washcloth/wipe/toilet paper--no direct contact. Also, as soon as they are able, let them wash/wipe themselves. Even now I will help my children bathe to save time and I still stop and let them wash themselves. It’s making the point that they are the only ones that should be touching their private parts.
- Talk about secrets. Privacy is alone time. Secrets are withholding information. Unless it is daddy’s birthday present, we don’t keep secrets. (And even if it is a present, you won’t get in trouble for spoiling the surprise). Mom and dad want to know everything and you won’t get into trouble (though new rules may go into effect for safety) for telling the truth. (Make sure you live up to this).
- Know who has access to your kid’s private parts. Who helps your child go to the bathroom? Who changes their diaper? Is anyone at the their school/daycare/church allowed to change their diaper? It might feel awkward asking these questions, but these are our children and someone needs to be checking. You don’t have to be psycho-crazy-paranoid mommy to find this information. A simple “Can you explain the changing/potty routine here?” I did this at my son’s school and was relieved to know that only 2 people had access to him in the bathroom and I knew them. This is a great time to also discuss background checks and whether or not they are required. Let me just tell you, I know it may seem crazy to think that sweet little old ladies could be child abusers, but I’ve seen/heard it all and they can be. Background checks are so easy to obtain these days--require them. Last point here, talk to your kids about their experiences. Who takes you to the bathroom? Does anyone help you or do you do it yourself? Get them talking. And that brings me to my last point…
- TALK! All the time! Use EVERY opportunity as a teaching moment. Make it so natural to talk about our private parts that we don't even blush. We don’t have to be inappropriate or crass and we don't need to tell them about our own private things. Talk about when it hurts, when it tickles, when it’s itchy. It’s ok. It’s normal. Kids need to understand that they are ok. They also need to understand that there is a safe and appropriate place to discuss these things. The other day I took my daughter to a public family restroom. Let’s just say that she needed to be in there for a while. While she was making up songs and talking about everything under the sun, she started rehearsing some of the things that we taught her about privacy. “Mom, nobody touches my pee-pee and nobody takes pictures of me either right?” Yes daughter. That’s right. She doesn’t need to understand why at her age, but she can memorize some basic rules. When she asks for help wiping or needs help in the shower, I always reiterate that Mommy and Daddy can help her with these things but only if she asks and no one else should ever touch her. The risk? Someone might get offended, she might not want grandma to help her go potty--that’s okay with me. I’d rather offend someone than potentially put my child in an uncomfortable situation.
How do you teach your kids about privacy? What would you add to this list?