Clear boundaries are everyone’s friend.Pam Davis

Summertime, generally speaking, means no school and lots more time at family gatherings: barbecues, reunions, long weekends, etc. One of the hard realities of child sexual abuse is that 30% of sexually abused children are abused by a family member. While family members can be some of your strongest allies in protecting your child, you should still think through how to prevent your child from being victimized by someone at a family gathering. As hard as that may be to think about, it’s necessary. Here are five things that you can do to make family gathers safer for your child.


Be wary of one-on-one time between your child and someone else.

Your child shouldn’t be spending unsupervised time with someone else without your knowledge and consent. In a large family gathering, it can be easy for a child to be taken off by themselves and be taken advantage of by a family member. Be sure that you’re aware where your child is and who they are with, even other kids, at all times.


Set clear boundaries.

Clear boundaries are everyone’s friend. Set clear boundaries for your child as well as others they will spend time with. Let the older cousin know that your child will not change in front of them. Let the aunt know that your child doesn’t have to give hugs. Let grandpa know that you’ll be joining him and your child on that hike.


Be aware of grooming patterns.

Perpetrators don’t just groom a child; they groom the child’s parents too. This grooming starts off with simply testing boundaries, small gifts, or insignificant touching before it escalates. Make sure that you’re watching for the signs and keeping your child safe.


Maintain open communication with your child.

Listen to your child. Listen to what makes them uncomfortable or angry or ecstatic. If they don’t want to sit on grandpa’s lap, there’s probably a reason. If they are afraid of their cousin, there’s probably a reason. If you brush off their concerns, then you are cutting off that open communication and encouraging them not to talk to you when they need help.


Don’t let people break family rules.

At family gatherings there can be a “loosey-goosey” feeling about rules. Staying up late is suddenly okay, movies you wouldn’t let your child watch last week are being played, and your teenager is handed their first glass of wine. At best, this sends mixed messages to your child. At worst, it’s paving the way for a perpetrator to gain access and take advantage of this no-rules zone.

Family gatherings can be fun or stressful, depending on your family. Take away some of the stress by preparing beforehand, talking openly to your child, and making sure that everyone knows that your rules will not be broken. You are the best person to keep your child safe in this type of situation, so it’s important to be prepared to do it.

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