Sex Abuse

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

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

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.