Start with one of the most important family rules: No secrets. Period. Perpetrators often test a child’s willingness to keep small, seemingly innocent secrets to determine if they can be trusted to keep a “bigger” secret, thus the rule of, no secrets, period!
Teach your children, in age-appropriate terms, the difference between a “secret” and a “surprise.” Explain that it is ok to not tell a surprise, but it’s never ok to keep a secret. Explain that a surprise is something that will soon be shared, and that everyone will think it is fun. Give them examples such as birthday parties, gifts that will be opened, etc. A secret, however, is something they are told never to tell and that you always expect them to tell you anytime someone asks them to keep anything secret. Look for everyday opportunities to point out surprises vs. secrets. Also teach them that some types of secrets make them unsafe, and until they are old enough to know the difference, that the “no secrets” rule stands.
Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem.
Ensure that family members (step parent, grandparents, cousins, etc.) know that you have a “no secrets” rule, so they will not ask your child to keep any secret, even if it is just allowing them to stay up past their designated bed time. When keeping secrets with just one person becomes routine, children are more vulnerable to abuse.