A child, knows only innocence. There is innocence in their pranks, tantrums and their love. They do not know the ways of the world or how dirty it can get. All they know is what we teach them, the ideas and thoughts we inculcate in them. They might not be at the same eye level as us, but they are individuals in their own right and deserve to be treated that way. And they crave for love and attention.
They have an insatiable appetite to learn new things. They love physical activities; more so activities which involve touch. Touch is healing and connecting. It promotes confidence in a child. Confident that he/she is loved and cared for. They say, a new born connects through touch. Knowing how touch is important, teaching a child the good and bad touch is very very tough. Its confusing for one, for the child. And trusting.
Most often, abuse happens through someone is who is know and trusted. No parent will knowingly leave their child with a stranger. It could be family or the help or the worst - one of the parents.
Parenthood introduced me to paranoia. And now I identify with my mother's paranoia. but her paranoia extended only to the non family members. It was stifling and honestly scary too. Was I abused? No, I dont think so. But there were uncles, the younger lot...who slept too close when visiting or hugging and kissing and leaving me squirming. You know instantly its not right and you just want to get away from them. Would they have taken it further, I didn't wait to find out. Did I read them wrong? I dunno. And made sure I wasn't in such a situation again to find out. I grew up in a joint family and these were not people I lived with. And being around so many people, one could just get away from them easily. But that cant be said now. Now we're all nuclear families and a child's companion is most of the times, an adult or an older cousin/child. And it makes no difference if the child is a girl or a boy.
Being paranoid is easy. What you do about it, matters. Here's what I do:
Listen: I really listen to her, patiently. And maintain Eye Contact. One needs to be an attentive listener. And the child most often gives information in bits n pieces at various times. Could be during play time, at meal time, , while doing her homework or at bed time. Don't just listen from one and take it out the other. Be an attentive listener. Ask questions. My daughter needs to know and trust that she can come to me with anything. And I will listen to her. And act on it.
Be Approachable. Encourage your child's questions. Understand and know your child's level of understanding and answer at their level. And be very clear about your own values.
Teach her the good touch and bad touch. And start early. I started when she turned 2. Very important to let her know that it is her body and she is in control of it. And has the right to refuse any touch and my permission to do so. She is taught this in school too.
Watch for behavior changes. Any kind of change that is inconsistent with her behavior or her routine.
One of the most important of all - Keep calm. Always keep your composure. I have learnt the hard way that she will mirror my reaction to the crisis. And If I want her to stay calm she should not see me get upset or hyper ventilate, at least in front of her. Scares her terribly.
If abuse happens, let the child know and reinforce that its not their fault. And get help, psychological and medical if required. Don't be shy. And don't brush it under the carpet.
Follow your instinct. If something or someone seems wrong or your child suddenly seems scared and clingy, act on it. Do not brush it under the carpet, however small or trivial it seems to you. Teach a child to follow their instinct. They are born with them.
Don't encourage my daughter to touch or get comfortable - hug/kiss/be carried by any adult who is not immediate family. Its just Hello.
Don't encourage her to accept goodies/food by strangers. She accepts food only from immediate family.
I do not leave her alone with any help. My maids never play with her unsupervised. The driver is an exception, only when he has to drop and pick her up from school. Took me a long time to trust him with my daughter. And he knows I am always alert. My dad's workplace is swarming with men. And sometimes one or two visit home, for errands and whenever the situation arises that my kiddo would be alone in the car with them, I'm late to work. She gets dropped off first. And if ever the need arises where my driver has to carry her, he checks with me, as she raises a stink if he touches her.
Teach her to say No and to stand up for herself. For someone who forever has to deal with people pulling her cheeks, she has nows learned to turn around and say loudly don't touch my cheeks. I have told her to scream loudly if anybody gets too close and tries to touch her. Honoring her No is very important. It starts with saying no to trivial things and when you acknowledge it, they know its for real. Yes, children test their parents.
No unsupervised play. Even her play dates are with those families whom I trust and know well. And more importantly, where our style of parenting matches.
Yes, life being as is will always throw up a situation which is not in your control and being alert always helps. In-spite of all this, am still paranoid and will continue to be. But will not let it get me. Parenting is not a job, its a way of life; one has to make changes accordingly. Its always better to be safe than sorry. And one needs to loose the inhibitions about talking about body parts.
Child Sexual Abuse is real and happens in a most of the families. Living in denial is no option and if you are a parent or someone who knows a child being abused, speak up and help that child. And please do not blame the child. He/she is the victim here, it is the perpetrator who needs to be punished. And don't be afraid of doing so. We not only owe our children a green world but also a safe and a loving environment for them to grow up in.
This post is an initiative towards Child Sexual Abuse Awareness kicked off by Monika and Kiran. In Monika's words,