Children are fragrant little buds that take their time before blossoming into adults who are ready to tackle the challenging outside world. Parents, grandparents, care takers, relatives, friends and even strangers shower their love and affection on newborns, infants and small kids as children are the purest form of individuals and a gift of nature! Any of us feel happy seeing the innocent face of a happy kid and become kids ourselves when we play with them. We teach our kids to stay safe, not to talk to strangers, to be far away from the hot stove or how to hold papa or mama’s hand while crossing the road. But most often we forget or rather ignore to teach our child the most important aspect in today’s world-body safety.
India is one of the countries that home the largest number of sexually abused children in the world, but statistics never reflect actual scenarios due to public reluctance and shame. A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes and none can forget the case of the 10-year-old girl who gave birth to a baby last year in Chandigarh. A baby from a bigger baby-what an irony! This girl was raped and impregnated by her uncle-a very close relative of hers! As in this case, the perpetrator is mostly someone well-known to the child-parent, family, friend, driver, watchman, school guard or someone he/she trusts. When someone so near and dear abuses the child sexually, the victim is often confused and doesn’t understand that what is happening to him/her is abuse and rarely talks about it due to fear or hesitation.
We, as a society must take better care and protect our children. Parents too can teach children certain important things that can keep them safe:
Children need to be aware of all body parts: Parents feel hysteric when they think of introducing their child to words like ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ and feel even more awkward when their preschooler uses it to another child in the playground or brings it up during some occasion such as a dinner outside with friends. Understood-these words are not used in regular everyday conversation and there is no necessity to use them too! But, by teaching our kids the actual name of all their body parts we do two important things: we create awareness about the words they should use to describe when something uneventful happens and we let children know that they are allowed to talk about every part of their body, including their genitals.
Instill the message in your child that his/her genitals are ‘private’ and no one has the right to ever touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable: Put in another way, it is nothing but exposing your child to the concept of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ A touch that is inappropriate, unwelcome or one that makes the child feel uneasy is a bad touch and the child must be taught to immediately report it to the parents. This is extremely important and the first step to teach your child about safeguarding himself/herself from sneaky people and their deceitful touches. That’s because, the perpetrator mostly begins to start his/her cheap stuff with an extra kiss, a prolonged hug or brushing the child’s arms or legs with more-than-casual gestures. This does not mean that any touch by a grownup is bad. Mostly its fine, but children must be helped to listen to their instincts and report anything that they feel inappropriate. Parents too should never ignore a child’s complain and must listen with complete attention when their child talks about a touch that made them uncomfortable.
Teach children that it is not ok when an adult asks them to maintain something as a secret: Its ok when mummy wants to surprise daddy on his birthday and asks you to maintain the plan as a secret. In general, it’s not good to keep secrets and when it comes to touches, it starts in a small, innocent way and bursts into a complicated issue later.
Make them understand that it is ok to talk about sex: Teaching your child about each body part is the start and as they grow up, talk about body changes, body image, sexuality and healthy relationships. Use sexual messages and images in the newspaper or media as conversation starters and don’t quickly change the channel or flip the paper as a gesture of ignoring them. Any case of sexual abuse highlighted can be quoted as an example for revisiting the concepts of good and bad touch. Children should never feel shameful or hesitate to talk about sex and it must be established that you are more than willing to give your idea about such cases and topics.
Teach your child that no one should take a picture of their private parts: The outside world is sick with people who love to take and trade pictures of nude children online which puts your child at risk. Warn your child against clicking such pictures.
Help them with simple tips to get out of uncomfortable situations: Children are scared or hesitant to say ‘no’ to requests from older peers or adults. Saying ‘no’ is an art that every individual has to master in order to survive. Learn how to say ‘no’ in a polite yet strong way with the help of tips given at the website www.firsteatright.com. Tell them it is ok to say no to uncomfortable situations and teach them to use certain sentences to get out of the situation. When someone wants to touch your child’s private part, maybe your child can let them know that he/she needs to go to the potty or you can have a code word that the child can use when he/she feel unsafe in the presence of relatives, friends or neighbors.
Lastly, tell your child that all these rules are applicable even to people they know and feel closer: Repeatedly let your child know that it is only ok for mommy and daddy to touch your child’s private parts either to clean them or apply cream and it’s not allowed by anybody else-teachers, coaches, peers, aunts, uncles or friends-to touch them even if your child likes their company.
Generally, specifically with our Indian culture, parents find it awkward and difficult to talk about sex considering it like any other topic of discussion. Repeated cases of sexual abuse, child rape and insecure activities force parents to bring out discussion about these topics to the living room. Allowing and encouraging such conversations help our children take the better road towards healthier relationships and keep themselves safe. These discussions might not completely prevent sexual abuse, but knowledge is power and when your child is informed, it proves to be a compelling deterrent with kids who are innocent and ignorant in this area. Also, discussing it once and closing the chapter altogether is not going to work. Reiterate whenever you find it appropriate to do so-bath time or when your child runs around the house naked-to keep your kid safely out of the clutches of the demons out there!
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.