Keep Your Child Safe From Sexual Abuse

Between November and January there are about a dozen holidays that you could celebrate, depending on your background or beliefs. These holidays provide opportunities for you to get together with friends and family and celebrate. You’ll want to keep your child’s safety as your top priority as you go to every party or event. It can be uncomfortable to think about any of your family members or friends sexually abusing your child, but you are your child’s best line of defense.

This holiday season, as you prepare to take your children to other’s homes, invite people into your home, or attend an event in the community, there are some easy things you can do to reduce the risk of your child being sexually abused, or from engaging in harmful sexual behavior, before, during, or after your festivities. You need to do what you can to keep your child safe, protected, and educated. The best way to do that is to plan ahead and think through what you need to do or say. So Let’s Talk about some tips:

Before You Go:

Planning ahead can make all the difference. That’s why we’ve created a checklist for you to go through before you head out to your next family dinner or festive party. We have this available to download below, so you can reference it as often as you need to for all the events you have coming up in the next few months. Let’s dig into that checklist so you can see what you need to do.

  • Make a list of potentially risky situations.

    It could be easy to let your imagination run away with you when thinking through potential risks. Instead of making a list of anything that could possibly go wrong, focus on what your child may be doing and the people, places, or things that may lead to issues. Whether it’s a sleepover with their cousins, something that occurs at a holiday party, or potentially being alone with someone older, you’ll want to think through the risks.

  • Talk to you kids about boundaries and consent.

    When children understand boundaries and consent they are less vulnerable to abuse and less likely to engage in harmful sexual behaviors. Even if you’ve had conversations about these topics before, it’s always good to review them before an event. It’s important for them to remember that they need to respect other people’s boundaries and consent, just as they should know that the boundaries they have and the consent they give or withhold deserves to be respected.

  • Create and discuss family rules.

    You probably already have family rules for everyday life, but during the holidays you may need to create some new ones with safety in mind. These may include expectations for when you aren’t around, what to do when someone asks them to do something they know is wrong, or reminding them to come to you when something happens that makes them uncomfortable.

  • Get the adults on the same page.

    Have open and honest conversations with any friends or family members who will be spending time with your child during the holidays. You can let them know what your rules are for your children, your dedication to preventing your child from being sexually abused, and ways that they can help.

  • Establish a safety plan with your kids.

    Let your child know what to do if they feel uncomfortable in a situation. Reinforce the idea that you are there to listen to anything and that you want to know if something has happened. While some of the things they talk to you about may not seem very significant, it’s important for you to listen. If they trust that you’ll be there for them during the small things, they’ll be more likely to talk to you about the big things.

During the Party:

If there are family members or friends who you haven’t seen or talked to in a while, it can be easy to shuffle your child out of the room so you can have some time with other adults. Or perhaps your child disappears the minute you walk in the door so they can go play and you don’t see them again until the end of the night. There’s a way to balance allowing you and your child to have fun and still keep them safe without hovering.

  • Don’t force them to give hugs.

    If they don’t want to hug your second uncle who they’ve never met, don’t make them. Allow them to say no and to show their affection on their terms. It can seem like a simple thing, but when you empower them to make choices about their bodies, it can make a big impact. When you give them the choice today, it lets them know that they have that same choice in the future. For example, today it’s not hugging your boss’s spouse, but tomorrow it could enable them to tell the person they’re dating "no" when they aren’t comfortable.

  • Check in on them frequently.

    This is especially important if they are spending one-on-one time with anyone—even if it’s someone you trust. Having significant amounts of time alone with another adult, teen, or child can potentially increase the risk that your child will be sexually abused or have inappropriate sexual behavior with other kids. Make sure that you know where they are, who they’re with, and check on what they’re doing a few times during the event.

  • Let them to choose their activities when possible.

    If they don’t want to go down to the basement to watch a movie, or upstairs to play video games, allow them to say no. It may seem like a small thing, but allowing your child to have a little more independence can actually benefit them in the long run. A confident child is less likely to be a target for a potential perpetrator.

  • Give them time or space alone if they need it.

    Large events can feel overwhelming for a child, even if they’re surrounded by people they know. There may be times when they want to step away from that hustle and bustle and take a minute alone or have a "time-out" from all the activity. Take the opportunity to listen to what they need and find a way to accommodate them when possible.

  • Be cautious of embarrassing them.

    Some children enjoy being teased or having silly stories told about them. Some children prefer not to be the center of attention and would rather not be goaded by the adults around them. If you’re teasing or embarrassing them, especially if they’re struggling with self-esteem issues, it can make them feel alienated and lonely. Feeling isolated and lonely is a risk factor for both being abused and sexually harming another child.

After You Get Home:

Whether it’s right after the party, the next morning, or a couple of days after, make sure to spend a little time with your child going over what happened, how they felt, and if there’s anything else they would like to discuss.

  • Play the "two good things and one bad thing" game.

    This was a suggestion that came from a mom who supports Saprea. Depending on the age of your child, it can be difficult to get more than one word answers out of them when you ask questions about what they did or if they had a good time. Instead, ask them to tell you two of their favorite things that happened and one thing that they didn’t like. This gives them permission to tell you if something was wrong or didn’t feel right, or if they just didn’t like the food.

  • Thank them.

    This is a great opportunity to tell them all the ways they met or exceeded your expectations. Because you went over what you expected of them beforehand and shared the rules you had for a given event, it’s a great time to compliment them on what they did well. You can mention specific things they did or said or tell them a nice thing that someone else said about them.

  • Think about next time.

    After an event, you should also take some time by yourself to process how it went, what you liked and didn’t like, what you learned, and what you’d like to do differently next time. Think through what your children said, what you observed, or anything else that sticks out to you. This will give you the chance to make any changes as you approach the next family gathering.

As you make your to-do list this holiday season for decorations, food, presents, or events, keep your child’s safety at the top of the list. With some planning ahead, open communication, and taking the time to really listen to your child, you’ll know what you need to do to reduce their risk of being sexually abused or engaging in harmful sexual behaviors.

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