SOUNDOFF: Teach children about touching

It’s hard to read any news article about children being abused or neglected in our community. It’s even worse to read about child sexual abuse cases (“Oak Harbor couple indicted in child porn case,” Whidbey News-Times, Aug. 31).

In response to the recent awareness across the country about child sexual abuse, the national organization Prevent Child Abuse America recently released the following tips about how to talk to children about these issues:

l Teach children the proper names of body parts. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, asking questions and telling about sexual abuse. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you do this as early as 18 months of age.

l Break the silence surrounding the topic of sexuality. Offenders are relying upon this air of secrecy. If those who abuse know that we, as parents and teachers, are comfortable discussing sexuality appropriately and openly, our children will not make easy targets for them. Protect children from the damaging trap of silence.

l Teach children that touching is never a secret. If someone touches them and asks them to keep it a secret, they need to tell what happened. Tell children that they have the right to say “no” to touching even from those they trust, and that they should not touch someone who says, “no touching.” Most importantly, encourage children to ask for help for any kind of touching that makes them uncomfortable or sad.

l Practice talking to children and other adults about difficult issues. This gets children in the habit of talking with you. Show that you will listen to anything a child has to say, even if the child talks about something embarrassing or a mistake he or she has made.

l Show how to say “no.” Teach children that their “no” will be respected, whether it’s in playing, tickling, hugging or kissing. If a child does not want to give someone a kiss, let the child shake hands instead. Help children understand that they have a choice regarding touching.

l Be responsible for the safety of your children. Parents are ultimately responsible for a child’s surroundings. Just as you don’t let a child play by a pool alone, you need to be aware of who your children are with and who cares for them.

For more tips and information about ways to prevent child abuse and neglect, go to the Prevent Child Abuse America Web site at www.preventchildabuse.org or Child Abuse Prevention Foundation’s Web s ite at www.wiCAPF.org .

Robin Hertlein is executive director if Whidbey Island Child Abuse Prevention Foundation.

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