One of the most important skills that needs to be developed between a child and parent to reduce the risk of sexual abuse is open communication. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you, or worries that you’ll freak out, or that you won’t listen to them, then you don’t have open communication.

Respond, Don’t React

At Defend Innocence we often say “Respond, don’t react.” This means that when your child does or says something that raises a red flag, you don’t immediately fly off the handle.

For example, if your five-year-old tells you that he and his friend were showing each other their private parts—that’s a red flag. However, it’s also a pretty age-appropriate curiosity. If you yell and rant and rave and cry then your child will know to avoid that type of subject with you, and possibly develop some strange ideas about bodies.

Now, if you were to calmly ask a few more questions and listen to the answers your child gives you, then they will tell you why they were doing it, how it happened, where it happened, and anything else you want to know. After you’ve learned the whole story then you can decide how to respond.

In the case of a child doing or saying something inappropriate there are three things that you can do to address the situation.

01

Set Boundaries

Let them know why the behavior made you uncomfortable. In the case of the above example, you can explain that your child shouldn’t show their private parts to anyone and shouldn’t ask to see anyone else’s. Lay the groundwork for more talks to have later and keep the conversation ongoing.
02

Thank your child

Anytime your child shares anything with you, thank them! If you’re addressing a negative behavior then thank them for bringing this behavior to your attention. Make them feel good that they shared with you, whether that was their motive or not.
03

Give an appropriate consequence

After you’ve done the first two things, it’s important to follow it up with consequences. Whether your child was at fault or not, there will most likely need to be a change in behaviors or situations that led to the conversation in the first place. For instance, in the above example you’ll need to determine why the children were unsupervised and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You will also want to discuss the situation with the other child’s parents to make sure that you are all aware of what happened and on the same team as far as making sure it never happens again.

A good relationship with your child won’t just happen, it requires effort and thought. Fortunately, like most things in life, you only need to take it one day at a time. Make the goal today to do one thing to encourage open communication between you and your child. You might be surprised at what they want to tell you.

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