As a therapist and a parent, I often think about how to teach children (my own included) to learn as much as they can about their bodies so that they can have a positive sexual health. How do I nurture and strengthen our communication so that if they were ever victims of any type of abuse (emotionally, physically or mentally) they could feel safe enough to inform me when they have been violated? Having worked with both adults and children survivors of abuse, I see the detrimental effects abuse has on the individual and family unit. Most sexual abuse occurs by someone within or close to the family, and rarely by a stranger.
Children will have contact with many adults in their lives, such as doctors, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, tutors, and neighbors. It is a natural healthy development that children learn to feel confident and have trusting relationships with other adult figures. Yet, it is important for parents or caretaker to continue to be the child’s main protector from any type of abuse.
Here are some parenting tips to continue to nurture a healthy relationship and create open communication with your children.
- Teach positive sex language about their body parts. Teach the proper names of their body parts i.e. Vagina, Penis. Don’t use made up words or words that can confuse children on the privacy of their body parts.
- Encourage communication about difficult topics. If parents never talk about topics that are difficult to discuss (abuse, bullying, discrimination, etc.), how will children learn this skill? Children need to know it is safe to talk about any topic; modeling is the best way children learn.
- Teach children good touch and bad touch. For younger children, teaching them through books is one way. In addition, teaching them at a young age to scrub and dry their genitals in the bath – having them understand no one should touch their genitals.
- Respect children’s rights at a young age. Children have the right to say “NO,” to make choices, to be heard, to be taught, and to be nurtured and loved. Asking children if they can be photographed is a good way to have them be aware that even taking a picture is their choice.
- Teach children about relationships and boundaries within those relationships, such as appropriate kissing, hugging, touch, and stranger danger.
- Normalize curiosity and sex play at a private time. Never make them feel dirty or shameful. Become familiar with the age appropriate sexual behavior beginning from age 0-18.
- Respect their physical space never force a child to do something they don’t want to do such as sitting on someone’s lap, hugging or kissing.
- Examine and monitor the messages children receive from media about their bodies and sexual health.
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