Teaching your kids about “stranger danger” doesn’t help them as much as you might think. Most of the time, when a child is a victim of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is someone they know, trust, and love.
As a parent, you don’t have have to feel helpless in the face of that. There are still specific ways you can protect your child from potentially harmful people. Learning the tips below can help you know what to look out for to keep your child safe.
Be especially wary of an adult that wants to exclusively spend time with children. If you’re at a mixed-age gathering like a church or family event, and an adult only wants to spend time with the kids, that should catch your notice. It’s definitely a red flag if someone wants to only spend time with one child, but even an adult spending time exclusively with groups of kids can indicate grooming behavior.
Talk to your kids about right and wrong touch, and help them know what situations are safe and which are not. Don’t use the terms of good touch and bad touch, because that can be manipulated by an abuser or misunderstood by a child (for example, a child may not like a doctor’s touch but if it’s necessary, it’s okay).
Make sure your kids know the correct anatomical names for their body parts. For younger children, it’s also helpful to explain that nobody should touch them where their bathing suit covers, except to keep them clean and healthy. Let them know that includes diaper changes, applying medicine, and quickly helping with the toilet, so they know what you mean and won’t be confused by someone who wants to harm them.
In some situations, like babysitting or music lessons, it may be necessary and even beneficial for your child to spend time alone with a trusted adult. Be sure to vet those people strongly, though-get references and run a background check for your caregivers. If the other adult consistently doesn’t want you in the room, that’s a red flag.
For your child’s babysitter, daycare, or even church group, make sure there are background checks on the people who will be with your child. It’s also a good idea to check in, show up at an odd time (or even early for pick up) to see if everything’s as it should be.
Always believe your child if they tell you something’s wrong. Know your kids and know how they act. If you see any changes in their behaviors or if they revert to an earlier developmental level, that may mean that there is an issue. If they’re acting out sexually, if they say or know things that are inappropriate for their age, investigate. These don’t mean abuse is going on, but it’s always worth asking your kids if there’s anything they want to talk with you about.
Remember, If you feel strange about a situation, play it safe. Removing your kid from a situation is much different, and less scary, than accusing someone. If you witness abuse, you need to make a report or call 911. But even if you haven’t witnessed abuse, if you feel uncomfortable for your child, it’s your job to trust that instinct.