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 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

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

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: by Pigdevilphoto