How Do I Talk to My Children to Prevent Child Abuse – Question 2

I’m not really comfortable using the correct names for private parts. I’m much more comfortable using the labels my parents used when I was growing up. Why is it such a big deal?

Sexual abuse cannot occur without secrecy, and while it is understandable that you may be hesitant to begin a conversation with your child, know that those who harm children count on us being uncomfortable with the subject….it helps their cause.

Preferably, every parent would begin talking about and correctly labeling body parts very early in the child’s life, but it is never too late to begin. So, why is it important? Think of it logically; we have one name for an ear, one name for a knee, and only one name for an elbow. But for our private parts, there are literally hundreds of “slang” terms, because the correct name is uncomfortable for many adults to name. The immediate message we send to children is that it’s ok to talk about ears, knees, and elbows, but not ok to talk about our private parts. By calling them by the correct terminology, it will normalize them and ensure children have the appropriate language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions as they age, or telling you about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable that has to do with any part their body. You may also feel more comfortable knowing that this doesn’t have to be one “big talk” but that it is actually better if it is ongoing. In fact, your expectations are easier for your child to learn if you consider finding natural, normal opportunities for reinforcing your point. Consider buying a book on this topic (or checking one out from the library) that will help begin the conversation. It’s also acceptable to just tell your child that you’re kind of nervous with this topic, but that you love them so much, that you want to make sure they’re safe.

In addition, avoid using the popular, “good touch/bad touch” verbiage and instead use “secret touches.” Teach children that every part of their body is good, but some are also private. Research has shown that if young children hear the phrase, “bad touch”, that they internalize it to mean that they have been bad, and that they may be in trouble if they disclose abuse. Just as unclear, the touch may have physically felt good, which is another confusing message to children to make sense of. But a “secret touch” is much easier for a child to understand.

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