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Kelly Winkler

Five Reasons to Talk to Your Preschooler about Private Parts

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1. Private parts are special. Saying so right away tells the child that they are a “good” body part. And, BECAUSE they are special only special people can touch them.

2. Private parts aren’t a “dirty” topic. If we simply ask a child to cover up, or if we constantly say “don’t do that,” then aren’t we implying that those parts are bad? If we imply that those parts are bad then the child begins to feel bad about them, which can lead a child to feel uncomfortable talking about his or her body.

3. If private parts are special then only special people can touch them. You, as parents, get to name the special people in their lives — the people you want your child to trust.

4. If private parts are special then you can easily introduce who can’t touch them. Starting the conversation at preschool age creates an easy entryway as your kids get older to explain who shouldn’t touch their private parts. You can also explain why we don’t let others tell us to keep secrets about our private parts.

5. Let your house be a safe place. Talking to your preschooler about their body is a way to make your house safe for uncomfortable topics. This becomes a building block for topics to come.

So, how do you bring up this topic to your child? Think of their age and developmental stage. If you want some more specific ideas, as well as a mock conversation between parent and child, come out to The Weekday School at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando this Thursday, Oct. 20th at 9:30am for a 2-hour seminar. You can register at www.shieldinginnocence.com/events. Hope to see you there!

How To Stop Sexual Abuse? Give Your Child a Good Compass

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I know a lot about sexual abuse. I mean a lot! I have experienced it myself, I have walked women through healing from it for years, and I have spent endless hours reading about it.

So all that knowledge can sometimes leave me scared. I can feel how little control I have in each situation.
As parents every day we run into new situations, like: the neighborhood kid has a new iPhone and is showing videos to your kids, or your kid is asking if he/she can ride a bike to this place, or wants to walk to 7-11 by herself.
I could go on and I assume you could too. If we are honest, really honest, we have less and less control as our kids get older. The hard reality is, as my colleague Caleb Grover says, sexual abusers aren’t going to do anything when you are there. It will happen when you aren’t there. Is the solution, then, to never ever leave our kids? Should we be hyper-vigilant and live in fear and therefore teach them to do the same?

There must be other options. To teach our children that their safety is dependent solely on our presence is to damage them in an even deeper way. It would be to imprint on their hearts, “My child, you are not trustworthy, you can’t trust your gut, your intuition, your sense of what is good.”

It is our emotions that can alert us to danger. That feeling in our gut that something or someone is dangerous or untrustworthy. I call it a compass because a compass lets you know which direction to go.

All children grow to become preteens, then teens, and then young adults. And they must have an internal compass that gives direction to them in this world. We have to start teaching them about this compass long before they are in their teens. They will have so many voices pressing on them from every which way. We want their compass to be much louder than the rest of those voices. We want it to roar, not whisper.

My three-year-old was outside and our sweet neighbor (late 70s), who is just lovely, wanted a kiss from her.
“Can I just have a kiss please?” She kindly and sweetly asks. My daughter is hiding behind my legs and all over my little ones face is “I don’t want to do that.” I wanted her to give this nice lady a kiss but my daughter didn’t. I feel tense all over. Quickly, I realized my choices are: I can either make her kiss my neighbor (and teach her to be touched when she doesn’t want to be) or I can have the awkward conversation where I stand up and say (which I did): “She doesn’t want to give a kiss right now.”

What does my neighbor do? She looks at me surprised and maybe a tiny bit hurt and says, “Do you teach her not to do that?”
I am thinking “I hate doing this. I don’t want to hurt this nice lady” but then I say, “Yeah, I teach them to only give kisses and hugs when they want to.”
She quietly replies, “Oh, okay, that is good.” Awkward moment ends and a sigh of relief drifts from my lips and my body relaxes again. We go on playing and talking. My daughter comes out from behind my leg and begins playing and talking with my neighbor.

I hope in small moments like that I teach my daughter to trust her “gut” when it comes to touch. Because someday, someone will want to touch her when I am not there. And I want her to hear my voice saying, “Trust yourself.” Because let’s face it, she will face a lot of this world and I won’t be there. And neither will you.

Is My Kid Safe at Summer Camp?

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Camp time is here, right? We are looking around trying to choose where to send our kids for the summer. Maybe a church camp here or a sports camp there. Many questions go through a parent’s mind when choosing a camp, so I thought it might be helpful to list some questions to ask that will help you discern if it is a “safer” camp for your kid. I choose the word “safer” because, in truth, no place is 100% safe since we live in a world where accidents happen, mean people exist, and we don’t control everything. But we can make “safer” choices, which means we can know what we don’t know and know what we do know.

What do you know about the camp?

  1. If a child is younger, how independent are they in going to the bathroom? Do they go one-on-one with an adult? Do they go as a group with kids who are older? If so, then who is keeping an eye on how long the child has been gone from view? Is the bathroom in a classroom, down a hall, upstairs? Is it an individual bathroom or a community restroom? Is there a roaming adult who is aware of all “hallway” activity?

These questions help you think through where the opportunity for isolated time with an older child or worker may occur.

  1. Are you familiar with the camp? Do you already go there for other activities so you feel good with the staff? Is the camp completely new to you? If so, do you have friends that can answer your questions? If you don’t have friends that have used this camp before, then you need to ask the camp director how they handle bathrooms.

These questions help you think through your assumptions. Maybe you feel comfortable for really good reasons, but maybe you feel unsure because there is important information missing.

  1. If the camp doesn’t have a bathroom plan, then they most likely haven’t thought through sexual abuse issues or body safety. Therefore, you may find they don’t know the answers to your questions. They may say that they have done background checks on everybody. Remember, only 10% of child abusers are registered sex offenders. So, we aren’t as concerned with background checks as we are that the camp has not thought through how they can avoid putting kids in situations where there isn’t ideal adult supervision.

What do you know about your child?

  1. Is your child independent in their needs to go the bathroom? Is your child aware of how to keep their body safe? Have you talked with your child about what to do if they feel uncomfortable in any way? Is body safety an untouched area for you and your kids?

 

Each kid is different. One 6-year-old may feel confident and comfortable with older kids but another may be easily drawn in to doing whatever is asked by an older child. You may be putting your child in camp because you want them to open up and try new things. Or you may send them to camp because they can’t sit still and need to get energy out. Just don’t forget that the more you know, the better you can set them up for a “safer” environment and a good, fun time.

My rule of thumb is always to find out what I do know, find out what I don’t know, and find out what I CAN’T know. Then, make the best “safer” choice for my child.

 

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Preventing Sexual Abuse: Setting Up Your Defense

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In my very first post, on how to prevent sexual abuse in kids I said: the best defense is to know your opponent’s offense. Now that I have laid out how an abuser abuses, let’s begin to set up our offense. In highschool basketball, if you played a team that couldn’t shoot well you set up a defense that, of course, forced them to shoot from far out instead of close. If a team had a great player, we set up our defense to force that player to get the ball as little as possible. Let’s review what we know about “the other team.”

First, we know that an abuser tries to connect with a child relationally. In other words, the abuser seeks to find out the relational and emotional needs of the child. He wants to be the one that meets those needs. Second, we know that the more a child is missing connection at home the more vulnerable she is to being targeted by a predator. (On a side note, sexual abuse can happen to a child who is well connected at home, because there are no guarantees that it won’t happen.) Let’s put this knowledge into action as parents. How do we put our child in the best position possible to protect them from sexual abuse? In other words, what’s our defense?

First, we make sure our kids are attached, in plain language, connected to us. What does it mean to be connected to our children? It means that you are a safe place where your child can come to you for anything. You are able to handle their sadness, anger, joy, irritability, and confusion. You are going to help answer their questions or you are going to comfort them in sorrow. You offer understanding when they feel confused. You are free to address difficult topics, like sexuality, without making them feel embarrassed or ashamed. You are not just meeting the needs for food, shelter, activities, and education. You are making sure your heart is a home to their hearts.

Here’s the thing — you can only track and connect with your child emotionally if you are tracking emotional areas in yourself. What if there are certain areas that you, as the adult, don’t like to deal with? What if you don’t like to be angry? What if you don’t like to be sad? What if you don’t like it when you feel weak or unsure? What if teaching them about their body parts makes you uncomfortable? Then how will you be able to connect with your child in that area? If it is a “No Go Zone” for you, then it will be for them too.

So here lies the problem. Your child will still need connection in the areas that are a “No Go” for you. It is in those areas that there is an opening for sexual abuse to occur. The abuser will offer them whatever connection you are not.

The good news is you can help protect your child by examining your heart and emotions and finding those “No Go” areas. So what are your “No Go Zones?”

Start there.

Step 5: Why Does the Child Stay Silent?

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How Do I Protect My Child From Being Sexually Abused?

Step 5: Why Does the Child Stay Silent?

Sometimes I get frustrated with my kids — how about you? In fact, each of my three kids get really upset when I lose my cool. My three year old says, “Mommy, are you done being frustrated?” as little tears fill her eyes. My middle says, “I don’t like the big voice mommy,” then hides under a blanket. My oldest just starts saying, “I am so sorry, Mommy.”

Why do they each want my anger to end? If you saw me get mad you wouldn’t, as an adult, think much of it. You would probably think, “Yep, I do that too,” or “That’s not yelling — you should have heard my mom.” But in their world, for those moments that I am upset, there is a disconnect between my love and their hearts. And they hate it! They want to be close and at peace with me. They want to feel that we are together and that my affection is fully available to them at anytime. I am their home, I am their place to count on and to go to. They want me back.

This is the first reason a child doesn’t saying anything when he is sexually abused. The child doesn’t want the “good” part of the relationship to be taken from him, and he knows that it will if he tells. He knows that what has felt so good — the connection and non-sexual touch — will end if he lets someone in on the abuse. The sexually abused child is in quite a bind. He knows, “If I say something I lose the good part. If I keep quiet I get to keep the good stuff but I feel so bad.” What a terrible spot for a child.

The second reason a child doesn’t tell anybody is shame. Author Dan Allender describes shame as the desire to hide yourself. The sexually abused child will feel that he is very bad (because he has been told in some way the abuse is his fault/choice) and he will feel very ashamed (he wants to hide). If a child tells about the abuse he has to be seen. He has to put out into the light the very thing he so desperately wants to keep hidden. It takes such bravery to tell and it takes a safe, safe, safe adult for the child to tell.

The final reason a child doesn’t tell is there has been a threat. The threat can come in all different shapes and sizes. It can come because the child told a dirty joke before the sexual abuse happened, and then the abuser said, “I will tell on you if you say anything.” The abuser may have asked the child to touch him. That puts the child in a situation where he or she made the first contact. Then the abuser says, “You will get in trouble for touching me if you tell your parents.” He might say something like, “This is how friends love each other,” or “This is just a special part of our friendship, but promise you won’t tell.” Can you see how tricky this is for a kid? The abuser knows just how to confuse a child’s sweet mind. And in each case, the abuser carefully puts the weight of ruining the relationship or the blame of the sexual touching right on the child’s lap.

Shame is such a barrier to getting helping for anybody, and even more so when you are little. As a parent, you want to find out if there is anything you might be doing, unintentionally, that makes it difficult for your child to share his/her feelings. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Do you avoid talking about private parts, do you get annoyed when they are sad, or do you punish them or criticize them when they are legitimately angry? 

You want to ask these questions because addressing these issues in yourself will open a door of connection between you and your child that has been closed. That open door begins to make you an even safer place to come to when your child is hurting.

 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 4: When Touch Happens What Happens?

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Step 4: When Touch Happens What Happens?

I have spent most of my adult life drinking way too much Coke. Imagine me at 24, I am going to seminary and taking an 8am class, and for breakfast I am drinking a coke and eating a Twix bar. This bad habit has deep roots, in my house growing up, we would play basketball for hours and when we needed a drink we would have a Coke (actually Pepsi, but that was a mid-western thing, I think). I can picture my mom popping open a Pepsi first thing is the morning as she cooked scrambled eggs. I must say for most of my life I have kept this habit. But as I get older, I am turning 40 this year; I have tried to cut back on my soda intake. I thought it might be what is causing some of my physical problems. Guess what I found, (drum roll please!) I am actually really thirsty! I mean really thirsty. Every day after I gave up soda, I would drink tons of water. And then it occurred to me, I am sure you were already aware of this, that soda doesn’t quench thirst it actually makes a person thirstier. But, because it had that sweet taste, plus my body didn’t know any different, I thought I was just getting a cold drink to quench my thirst. Interesting isn’t it, that soda is cold, wet, and tastes good but it damaged my insides. (two tablespoons of sugar helps!) Water is what I really needed and it is cold, wet, and tastes good but it truly quenches my thirst. My intake of soda never showed on the outside of my body. I work out and maintain a healthy weight. But on the inside, my stomach slowly started to really hurt. The damage was happening but I just couldn’t see it on the outside. We can hold this little example as a way to see what happens when the child is sexually touched by the abuser.

Sexual abuse does a very similar thing as Coke did for me except the consequences are much worse. As I wrote previously, all children are thirsty for touch. The abuser uses non-sexual touch to quench the child’s thirst. Using our metaphor, the child is given a sweet soda instead of water. (the non-sexual touch) Then, he tests the child to see if the child will let him go further. He might brush his inner thigh or “accidently” brush a breast. This test is to see if the pulls back in some way. And when the child doesn’t the abuser takes the touch to sexual touch. The child didn’t know that this sweet drink of “good” touch was going to be turned into sexual touch. A touch the child didn’t know was coming, a touch the child doesn’t even have categories for, a touch that awakens some sexual feelings (though the child is too young to have an awakened sexuality). The damage of that sexual touch, whether one time, several times or over years is devastating. Tragically, most of the damage is on the inside where nobody can see. It is in the child’s heart and mind. The memory is held in the child’s body and memory. The child grows up into an adult with a shattered heart. She may not have told a soul and she may not even know how much her life was damaged by this one violent act.

That’s why we, at Shielding Innocence, want to do this work. We want to prevent sexual abuse and harm as much as possible. I think there are many things we can do as parents to shield our children. Sexual abuse is not something we can ever be guaranteed won’t happen. But we can begin to implement strategies that help our child be less vulnerable to it.

 

 

Next week….How the abuser guarantees silence.

Credit for photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Pigdevilphoto

Teaching Kids About Touch

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Step 3: How Good Touch is Used with Bad Motives

I was thinking today about how good it feels to hug my kids.  I get to hug them and cuddle them in all kinds of ways.  I have three kids who are all pretty little.  My oldest is 8, my middle is 6 and my youngest is 3.  Each one of them hugs and cuddles in different ways.  My son (the 6 year old) has so much variation in how he likes hugs.  For instance, he runs into bed first thing in the morning, and finds my side of the bed and just holds on to my whole body like I am a life raft and he is lost at sea.  Other times he lays his whole body across his dad while they play chess on his iPhone or watch Steelers football highlights.  And yet, he loves to ram into me while I am cooking with a big smile on his face because in his world that also counts as good, loving touch. I look at him and say, “Why are you ramming into me?” And he, of course, looks confused because he considers that moment an exchange of love. “Sorry Mommy, I thought you would like it.”  I soften my whole face and smile, “Buddy, I do like hugs, but could you not ram into me while I am cooking?”  “Sure,” and he bounces away like Tigger.

We Know Kids Need Good Touch

All kids are made to be touched and different children like touch differently.  Some like wrestling, others hugs, some like having their head or back scratched, other like kisses on the cheeks, some prefer hand holding, not to mention all the various combinations as well.  Touch is a major way of expressing love and communicating care.  As a matter of fact, science has highlighted that the power of touch is more than skin deep.  Touch releases endorphins that not only make us feel good but help build emotional attachments with the one doing the touching.  There was a famous experiment in the 1960’s by a psychologist named Harry Harlow that showed this.  Dr. Harlow offered baby monkeys a choice between a surrogate mother made of metal who could simulate nursing by giving milk and a surrogate mother who was made of cloth but with no nursing capability.  The question was, “Who would the baby gorilla spend most of its time with?”   Hands down, it was the momma made of soft cloth, not the momma who simply fed him.  The conclusion is as simple as it is profound: we are hard wired for touch.

Predators Use Good Touch To Build Trust

A predator’s second step in gaining a child’s trust is non-sexual touch. (Remember, step-one, from last time, is connection.) The first touch won’t be sexual; instead it will be touch that the child is made for, like wrestling, back rubbing, or tickling.  Like we saw with connection, a predator usually mimics things that a mom or dad would do.  He uses God-designed ways of lowering the guard of unsuspecting children, in this case through “good” touch.  Additionally, if the child has a deprivation of physical touch, meaning little to no good touch is happening at home, then the child is even more likely to be selected by an abuser.

What Can I Do?

Can you see how tricky the whole method of sexual abuse is and how confusing it is to a child?  This means we have a job to do when it comes to teaching our child about touch:

  1. We must touch them in loving ways that are specific to their temperament and needs.
  2. We must step-in and stop any adult who is touching them in a way we see our child feels uncomfortable with (a person at the Y who just likes to hug).
  3. We must not hug our child or touch our child to meet our own adult needs for comfort because it will teach them it is okay to comfort adults with their touch.

Image by: David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Talking with Your Kids

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Step 2: Making the Child Feel Safe and Special

My 8-year-old girl is becoming a little lady.  At nighttime, we don’t just lie in her bed, like we used to, snuggling and reading books.  She is changing and I’m realizing I must change too if I want us to stay close and connected.  One thing I’m discovering is that she has a life that’s all her own!  Her world is filled with things she wants to talk about, like friends, school, tests, and of course, herself.  Naturally, I want to know all about it.  But as we have transitioned I have begun to discover exactly when she wants to share her thoughts with me.  I thought asking her right after school would be a great time to talk. So for a while I tried asking her on the car ride home from school.

 

“How was your day?” I ask.

 “Good,” she says.  

I give it another shot.  “Hey, so what specials class did you have today?”

“P.E.” she replies.

Okay, let’s try this again.  I move in with more specifics.  “How is it going with so and so?”

“Fine.” She replies. 

I can just hear the announcer declaring, “Strike three! You are out, Mom.”

You get the idea, right?  I try being interested, but not too interested; excited, yet casual, and anything in-between to connect to her.  This is our job as moms. And in trying, I have learned that right after school is not her time. She wants to go home, turn on a show, and “veg” for about 30 minutes.  Later, she emerges ready to play but not talk.  However, late at night, when I am really tired and I want to relax and be by myself, that is when she wants to share her thoughts and feelings about life.  She will talk about all kinds of things: her stuffed animals, goofy jokes, what job I think she might have, and sometimes I get the really good stuff. In those moments, she will ask me advice about her friends, her troubles, her insecurities, and other precious questions that flow from her young heart.  And I love it!  My goal is to be one of the main places she can come to figure out life, to feel loved regardless of what else is going on, and to be sounding board as she grows. She needs a place like that.  My experience from being a therapist for 15 years has taught me this if she doesn’t find it with me she will find it somewhere else, with someone else.

Grooming: A Predator’s Method

What does this have to do with protecting your children?  You need to know that sexual abusers often use that same plan to develop a connection to your child – first to their hearts and then to their sexuality.  A sexual predator wants to form a close relationship with a child in order to get access to that child’s mind and body.  He will use all of the same tools I am using as a mother to stay close to my daughter.  He wants something that will make the child open up and trust him by leading the child to feel safe or special or understood by him.  The official word for this is “grooming.”  But I think the word grooming just sounds so creepy like this big, gross, dirty man is getting close to my kid by grooming him.  If we think of it that way then we could end up responding with, “I am not going to let some gross man groom my child!”  That word can make us check out because we already feel our children are secure against that kind of threat.  But we have to educate ourselves with the fact that the sexual predators usually gain access to children by taking advantage of a prior “normal” connection to a child in order to win the child’s trust.

What Do I Do?

Naturally, we hope and maybe expect that any child would be able to tell the difference between our well-intentioned interest and someone else’s manipulative intentions.  But the fact is children have a hard time telling those apart… unless we provide them with two things:

  • Connecting that is specific to their unique temperament and needs
  • An understanding of the difference between good connection (love for the sake of the other) and bad connection (for the sake of the adult)

Coming Up…

In future posts, I will spend time exploring what those two critical factors look like in practice and why they are so important to the well being of our children.  Remember, to get with a friend and really talk this out.  This is the kind of conversation that can change your kid’s lives and can change your hearts too.

 

image by: chrisroll at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How Do I Protect My Child from Sexual Abuse?

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Step 1: We (Parents) Must Open Our Eyes

Sexual abuse is such a tough topic. Isn’t it?  It is hard to think about and it is hard to write about.  It makes me want to turn my head and say, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to even think about this topic and my kid(s)” I get it.  Really, I do.  I have often felt in my life that the darker topics feel too much to look at.  And really, it seems as though life is moving along.  In my week, I have baseball practice, basketball practice, dance practice, and then all the games that come with all the practice. I have homework to help with, I have laundry, I have work, and I have to pick up from all the mess.  When is there time to really stop and think about sexual abuse much less anything else?  And yet, you are here reading and I am here writing because we can’t not think about protecting our kids.

So let’s just say it.  It is hard to stop.  It is hard to let dark heavy topics come on in and sit with us at the end of our day.  But, the truth is that in looking at tough topics we have a chance to shine light.  And if we shine light into these dark topics we start to get a handle on what we want to do.

I grew up playing basketball.  What I mean by that is I was at a basketball game when I was 3 days old.  I have been to more basketball games, been at more practices and traveled to more tournaments then most people can even imagine.  My dad is a basketball coach as are both of my brothers.  I played basketball in high school and college.  What I have learned from years of getting to know this sport is the best way to stop your opponent is to know their offense.  If you know what they do to score points then you can set up a defense in order to win.  That is what motivates me to take on sexual abuse.  If we know the perpetrators “offense” then we can set-up a great defense.  In basketball, you can do the same offense and defense for every team.  But when you play a really good team, they will have studied your offense.  So you can’t just hope to beat them.  You must study them too.

A Predator Is Looking For Parents Who Aren’t Looking

Shielding Innocence is really here to do just that.  We study the offense of the predator.  And we give it to you.  Then you implement what we teach you into your lives. I will give you one aspect of the “offense” of a sexual predator. He is looking for parents with their eyes shut and fingers in their ears.  Step one you have already begun just because you are here.  You are looking and listening.  But don’t do it alone. Ask another mom to come and check this stuff out. Then talk about it.  We can shield our kids the best when we do it together.