Some of the questions I receive most frequently revolve around parenting, raising healthy children and “discipline” so I thought I would take a moment to answer a couple of these questions here.
Q: With all the stories in the media about kids being molested, should I talk to my 5 year-old daughter? How do I talk to her about sex?
A: In my work with sexually abused children I am repeatedly reminded of how ignorant children are about their own bodies. They often lack the vocabulary to communicate their experiences. Unfortunately, child molesters usually target younger children due to their inability to verbalize abuse. My clients know something have made them feel “weird” or “funny”, but don’t have the words to verbalize it. Although most schools include a sexual abuse curriculum beginning as early as preschool, it is never too early to teach your child about their body. Not only is it is empowering for children to understand how their bodies work, but it is invaluable in helping us understand their experience and getting them help. If you are uncomfortable with teaching your daughter the technical terms, find a language you are both comfortable with and start a dialogue.
The Red Flag Green Flag® People program is a personal safety program in which early elementary-aged children learn about different kinds of touches, how to recognize potentially harmful situations (especially sexual abuse), assertive responses, and who their “helpers” are. Through the use of this 30-page workbook, students learn about appropriate and inappropriate types of touches…which are referred to as Green Flag or Red Flag touches.
Child sexual and physical abuse is a problem that parents often have difficulty with when talking to their children. It is important to teach children how to identify when abuse or “bad”touches have occurred, but it is hard to do so without frightening them. Therefore, the Red Flag Green Flag® People program provides age-appropriate information to children in a non-threatening manner. Through learning the difference between “green flag” and “red flag” touches, children are equipped with the necessary vocabulary and knowledge to explain their experiences and feelings to those identified as “helpers” (police officers, parents, teachers, etc.). Green flag touches are explained as being those that make a person feel good, happy, and loved. Red flag touches are those that cause a person to feel scared, mixed up, or unhappy.
Through use of the 30-page workbook children are exposed to several hypothetical and “what if” situations in which they are asked to identify the scenario as being either a red flag or a green flag situation. Such scenarios cover a range of topics from what to do if a stranger approaches a child and asks them to get in a car, to the difference of “okay” and “not okay” secrets, to internet safety.
Children are taught a three-step method to use in the event they find themselves in a Red Flag situation or if they receive a Red Flag touch. The steps are as follows:
1) Say No
- If someone tries to give you a Red Flag touch, say “NO” in a loud, strong voice.
2) Get Away
- If someone tries to give you a Red Flag touch, get away. Run someplace safe where there are other people.
3) Tell a Helper
- If someone tries to give you a Red Flag touch, tell someone you trust right away.
The conclusion of the workbook (pages 29 and 30) consists of a brief review of the information covered, and presents a list of helpers for children to bring home and ask their parents to help fill in.
If you feel your daughter is too young to talk about sex, teach her that her private parts are just that- private. Explain that her body is her own and that no one has permission to touch it without her consent. Educate her on the difference between appropriate touches (like when her pediatrician gives her an exam) and inappropriate touches. We teach our children to obey adults and accept adult authority unconditionally- especially little girls. Give your daughter permission to say “no” and not obey grownups when they want to do something that makes her feel uncomfortable, frightened, nervous, or “funny”. Sex education is a personal decision only you and your family can make. But keep in mind that kids are curious and will fill in gaps in their knowledge base- with either correct or incorrect information. The important thing is to arm your child with knowledge and encourage an open and continuous conversation.
Also, there is this misconception that only strangers molest children, what law enforcement officials call “stranger danger”. The reality is that most victims of child molestation are victimized at the hands of family members or friends. Therefore it is imperative that parents arm their children with the knowledge to get help. There are many age-appropriate resources available for use in educating our children about body safety and sex without overwhelming their naive sensibilities.
Q: How do I get my son to mind me? I know he’s only eight years old, but he’s the boss of our family and I’m at the end of my rope. Help!
A: Why is an eight year-old child running your home? The answer probably is…because you let him. Children need structure in their lives, and despite outward appearances, they crave routine. When adults fail to provide appropriate structure, children attempt to make sense of their surroundings. Start off with simple limit-setting and limited choices-give your son choices, but limit them to options you can live with. Then encourage him to choose from these options.
The next step is to establish and add natural and logical consequences. This is an alternative to the traditional “rewards and punishment” system most of us were raised on. The advantages of logical consequences include: holding the child, not the parent responsible for the child’s behavior; kids get to make their own decisions about what they want to do; kids learn from the natural or social order of events rather than simply complying with yours or others wishes. For example if your child refuses to eat dinner, they go hungry. If your child refuses to wear gloves, their hands get cold. These are two albeit simple examples of natural consequences. Logical consequences allow a child to learn from reality and social order. But-in order for the consequences to be effective the child needs to see them as related to their misbehavior.
For example, if your son leaves his bike outside in the rain after repeated requests to garage it and it gets ruined-don’t replace it (natural consequence). If your child repeatedly oversleeps in the morning and rushes for the bus-don’t prepare him a “grand slam” breakfast and drive him to school. Give him some fruit and a cereal bar and send him off to the bus (logical consequence). There are a few basic differences between logical consequences and punishment:
- Punishment expresses the power of personal authority
- Punishment is arbitrary or barely related to the logic of the situation
- Punishment is personalize and implies moral judgment
- Punishment is concerned with past behavior
- Punishment threatens the “offender” with disrespect or lost love; it is a put-down
- Punishment demands obedience
Catch your son making good choices and reward him. Reinforce positive behaviors. And most importantly, do what you say and say what you do. When you set limits with your son, follow-through with them. If you don’t your actions communicate to your child that your words are meaningless. Follow-through. Every time. For example, if you set a limit prior to a shopping trip that if your son throws a temper tantrum you’ll go home- do it. I know you might not have time to get to the store later, but believe me if you don’t start now his misbehaviors will only increase. I’m not recommending that you treat your child like an adult, or that you don’t nurture and encourage him. But if you are consistent and logical in your discipline not only will you regain control of your home, but your child will be happier and empowered.