It’s widely recognized that perpetrators of sexual abuse are among those close to the child’s immediate social circle. So as much as we would love to believe that we can trust those closest to us, the statistics just aren’t in our favour. But I’m not one for living in unnecessary fear, so how do we safeguard our children without stepping into paranoia? The answer is: No secret, only surprises!
Predators rely on secrecy to groom their victims. They facilitate trust by purposefully excluding the people who would be able to help. Out of the context of abuse, secrets between peers are also often negative, hurtful, and focus exclusion:
“Don’t tell Mary about my new toy, she can’t play with us.”
“Don’t tell Thomas about the party this weekend, he’s not invited.”
“Don’t tell your Mommy that I touched your private area, this is our little secret.”
So, if we instil a “no secrets” policy at home, we can prevent our children from ever falling into a “secret trap”. This protects them from predators and facilitates friendships.
Surprises, on the other hand, are positive, wonderful opportunities for inclusivity! The difference is that the person initially excluded from the surprise will always find out eventually:
“Don’t tell Nthabiseng, but I’ve arranged a play date with her best friend to cheer her up.”
“Don’t tell Elijah we’re throwing a surprise party for him this weekend!”
“Don’t tell Daddy, I’ve bought him a lovely gift for his birthday on Friday! Will you help me surprise him?”
Remind your child that if anyone asks them to keep a secret, they can say loud and proudly, “We don’t keep secrets in this family, we keep surprises!”
This can be a tricky topic because our adult minds often associate consent directly with sexual expression. But for children it’s about so much more. Teaching children to understand consent from an early age allows them to develop language skills, boundaries, self-confidence, respect, empathy, autonomy, AND it significantly reduces the risks of potential abuse.
You can introduce the idea of consent by role playing with your child. Ask them if they want a hug. If they say yes, then give them a hug. If they say no, say, “Ok, you make the rules about your body so I will not hug you.”
You can introduce this idea with family and friends as well. It’s really important never to force children into physical interactions, or allow others to do so. For example, when Granny comes to visit, say out loud, “We are learning about consent this week. Would you like to give Granny a hug? No? That’s ok, what about a high five instead? Also not? Ok, we can just use words to greet today. Hi Granny!”
Unfortunately, statistics show that perpetrators of abuse are rarely strangers, but rather within the family circle. Teach your child that if they ever feel uncomfortable about being touched, or are asked to do something that feels wrong to them, it’s important that they tell an adult whom they trust. If that adult won’t listen or doesn’t believe them, they should keep telling more adults until someone listens.
Even if your child is particularly self-assured and independent, all children can struggle when faced with a novel situation. Role play is a really effective way to teach children how to behave when they may feel otherwise feel uncomfortable and helpless. Role play gives them an opportunity to practice words and actions in a safe space, which prepares and empowers them for the future. It also speaks to them on a developmentally appropriate level, since children naturally love to immerse themselves in imaginative scenarios.
Think of as many scenarios that you can think of in which consent would be important. For example:
Write each on a slip of paper and then ask your child to pick one at a time. You can take turns at playing each role in the relationship. Carefully note when your child feels uncomfortable and if need be, provide them with a script. “No, Uncle, stop! Stop tickling me!” Allow them to practice this script and encourage the use of loud voices and that stop means stop, no questions asked. “My angel, Suzie said that she doesn’t want a hug right now, so you cannot hug her. Suzie’s body; Suzie’s rules.”
This may seem like overkill, and some friends and family may even be offended in the process. But your child’s safety is more important than appeasing others.
Some children are evenly measured, others are explosive. Often this is an inherent part of their temperament. You will often hear parents describe their child as “intense” or “an absolute roller-coaster” right from birth. As a parent of an explosive child, you may find yourself walking on eggshells to keep the peace, or conversely, in a constant state of conflict trying to calm your child’s devastating outbursts. It’s even worse in public because you know that the harder you try to quash the hysterics, the worse the situation gets.
In order to help explosive children develop emotional intelligence and self-control, we need to take them through a process of integrating their “emotional brain” with their “logical brain”. The logical brain is only fully developed by the age of ±25, so rationalizing with small kids is often counterintuitive. Focusing emotional awareness, however, achieves better results in the long term.
One way to practice integration is to draw an emotion chart. They can use faces, colours, numbers, or letters to represent their feelings. When they are feeling angry, sad, calm, worried, or joyous, show them their emotion chart and ask where they are. This action in itself helps to calm the child down by activating the logical brain and also helps them to move through the emotion. The child can see that although they are experiencing a big emotion now, there are other emotions on the chart too, which means the current state is not permanent, even though it often feels as though it is.
Note how the numbers below go from 10 straight to 90 on this Angry-o-metre. What does that tell you about this boy’s ability to control his anger? Would punishing him solve the problem? This is why it is so important for your child to be actively involved in designing the chart, as it provides you with a great deal of insight into how they experience their emotions and the world around them.
CPASA Founder, Owner: Best Behaviour