What To Do
So how can you keep your child safe? After reading Part One of this series you are probably feeling extremely worried and possibly sick to your stomach! That’s how I always feel when I research or talk about this issue. But take heart, there are some very practical steps you can take to help protect your child from this danger.
First, educate yourself to learn the facts about how a predator acts. Remember, 90% of abusers are well known to the child. This means it is not a stranger with a mask – it is most likely someone within your circle of family or friends. But there are patterns that predators follow that can help you know when it’s time to be suspicious. Here are a few:
- Forced Teaming – Trying to make you feel like you know them well already and are a team. Statements like “We adults have to help each other,” or “We all want kids to be happy,” etc.*
- Charm and Niceness – Looking you in the eye, smiling, complimenting you and your child, etc. Remember this person is a con artist, they have become an expert at making people trust them.*
- Discounting the Word “No” – This is a dangerous sign in anyone. If you say, “no, thanks, I’m fine” to someone and they don’t listen to your “no” but just keep offering and insisting there is good reason to believe they will not listen to your child if they say “no” to that person also. Respect for personal boundaries is one of the most important parts of our social contract with each other.*
- Excessive Gift Giving – Giving gifts, money, trips, and/or performing special favors for child. Many people in your child’s life may love them and give them gifts. But when its someone who seems to have no clear reason for this, pay attention.^
- Excessive Bodily Contact – There are appropriate times and places for affectionate touching. But some predators use this as a way to desensitize the child to their own body boundaries through nonsexual touching like tickling, backrubs or wrestling. Then it may escalate to “accidental” touching of privates and/or walking in on bathroom or dressing time. The eventual goal would be sexual touching as the child slowly looses the idea that their body is their own.^
Second, make a determination that you will NEVER allow your child to be alone with someone, no matter how nice they seem, until you have thoroughly screened them yourself or can trust someone else has screened them. If you are dropping your child off at any type of child care it’s always important to ask a few basic questions:
- What is your philosophy about discipline here? How do you deal with difficult behavior?
- What is the screening process for child care workers? Does everyone go through a criminal background check?
- What is the policy for bathroom use? What is the policy for an adult worker being “one on one” with a child?
- What are your “child safety” practices? Do workers get trained in recognizing and preventing abuse?
Yes, being the irritating parent who asks all these questions while it seems everyone else drops their child off with no cares in the world is not the funnest job. But you may be the person who pushes for a change that saves a child from abuse – your child or another innocent victim.
Finding a babysitter you trust in your home will also need screening, see this excellent book for tips:
Third, begin discussing safety issues and body boundaries with your child at the youngest age possible. Ask them to name who in their lives is “safe” and part of your trusted circle, and who is not. It’s hard for children to understand the difference between a waittress at a restaurant (I know her name, so she’s a friend) and a babysitter you have carefully screened. Teach them that there are different levels of closeness and trust – some are people are in our “inner circle” and are “safe” and some are not.
Help your child to learn boundaries over their own body. Teach them what are “public” and “private” body areas (a good rule of thumb is “what a bathing suit covers”). Make sure they know that is always ok to say “No” to any physical contact they do not want. Children are often carried here and there, hugged, kissed, snuggled and tickled. Is it any wonder that they are a good victim for someone who wants to violate their body boundaries? There will always be certain things we have to make children do that they don’t want to (brush teeth, go to bed, etc!). But intimate touching – like hugs – should always be optional and up to the child’s decision. This important lesson of consent will protect them for their entire life. And reassure them that you will always want to hear anything that happened that made them scared or uncomfortable, no matter who was involved.
This book is a great resource for having those conversations with your child:
Finally, decide in your mind that you will always choose to do what’s necessary to keep your child safe whether or not it is rude or inconvenient. Our society assumes that teachers, priests, pastors, police, doctors, and other professionals are automatically trust-worthy. While many are, there’s no profession that is predator-free. We also have an ingrained desire to be “polite”, and especially women often find it hard to ask questions or point out situations that aren’t quite right as it seems “rude”. But ask yourself this – which is a bigger problem? To be a bit rude, and make a situation that might have been safe slightly uncomfortable? Or to keep quiet over a suspicion or concern in fear of being rude and find out something truly terrible did happen? Trust the discernment you have, speak out about anything suspicious, ask questions to make sure your child is safe, and say “no” to any situation you don’t feel good about. There is nothing to regret if you were wrong and a situation WOULD have been safe, but there is everything to regret if you ignored your bad feeling and something bad happened. You know what to do to keep your child, and everyone’s child, safe!
*from the book: Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker