Parent Safety Resources - Talking to Your Child About Sexual Abuse

Talking to children about sexual abuse can seem stressful or scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Conversations about sexual misconduct or abuse can be a part of the safety conversations you’re already having, like affirming that your child has a right to be safe, knowing when to speak up, how to take care of friends, and listening to your gut. These conversations should focus on helping children see that they have a right to their boundaries. Open conversations help them see you as a trusted and safe adult, and give them the knowledge and language needed so that they come to you about any moments of discomfort or abuse that they experience.

A word to adult survivors: Take care of yourself. This information can bring up difficult feelings about your own past, get support, you’re not alone; there are resources to help.

Start Conversations Early: The key is to start these conversations when your kids are young and have them often. Having open and supportive conversations with our children from an early age can help them learn to identify unsafe situations, provide them with language to talk about moments of discomfort or abuse, and encourage them to seek support from you or other trusted adults. Continue having frequent discussions about safety as your children grow older.

Talk about Natural Sexual Development: All children go through a natural process of sexual development starting at birth that includes physical changes to the body and gaining knowledge and beliefs around sexual behavior. As children grow older and reach different developmental stages, they typically start to show natural curiosity and participate in common and healthy expressions of sexuality. These behaviors can be impacted by their age, the behaviors they see in others, and what they are taught and told about sexuality. Understanding typical childhood sexual development can help you separate healthy behaviors from signs of possible abuse or behavioral problems.

Talking openly with your child about healthy and natural sexuality can foster a trusting relationship between you and your child and help them identify appropriate boundaries and behavior.

  • Give children the words they need to talk about their bodies, such as the correct names for their body parts.
  • Explain that some parts of the body are private and that no one else should touch or look at them. Let them know that while it’s natural to be curious about other people’s bodies, private body parts should be kept private. Teach them that their body is their own and that it’s okay to say “no” and get help from a trusted grown-up if a touch is uncomfortable, even in situations that may seem less serious. For example, if a child does not want to hug a family member, support that decision.

Talk About Healthy Boundaries: Boundaries are the invisible lines that separate what feels okay and comfortable from what doesn’t. Let children and teens know that everyone has different boundaries, and it’s important to respect those of others and ask others to respect theirs. Ask them to share examples and be prepared to give some examples. Help them understand what behaviors are allowed and what is inappropriate. This will make it easier for them to recognize when something is wrong and encourage them to speak up.

  • Empower children to set their own boundaries. Let your child know that they are the only person who can make decisions about their body. Teach children that it’s okay to say “no,” even if they are worried the other person will be upset. Acknowledge that there may be situations where the child is unable to set a boundary, such as if they are afraid or confused, or the other person doesn’t listen to them. Let them know that abuse is never their fault and they will not be blamed if they are unable to set a boundary. Make it clear that you want to hear from them about an uncomfortable situation afterwards, whether they were able to set a boundary in the moment or not.
  • Set an example by modeling healthy boundaries. Your child learns a lot about how to set and respect boundaries by watching your interactions with others. You can demonstrate boundary-setting to your child by saying no to others and explaining these decisions to your child.

Talk About Online Safety: More and more we rely on technology to interact, learn, experience, and enjoy our lives. Kids as young as five years old are learning through virtual environments. It’s important that we don’t just talk about in-person interactions; we have to teach our children about healthy online boundaries and behaviors, too.

  • Have open conversations about your child’s online activity. Regularly review the webpages, social media sites, phone applications, and gaming sites that your child or teen uses to do their homework, connect with friends, and find entertainment. Talk to your child about the types of information they see on these sites, people they talk to, and interactions they have online. Let them know that you want to hear about any uncomfortable online experiences they have.
  • Teach the importance of not sharing personal information or images online, such as their school, home address, telephone number or private photos. Encourage your children to tell you if someone does ask for this type of information or images.