by Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
It is the responsibility of the adult to protect children from sexual abuse.
Part of that job includes educating children about what belongs to them; their body, inside and out! And that begins on day one.
And eventually, “Penis” “Vagina”
Instead of saying “eye” we could call them your “peek-a-boos.” Nose could be your “sniffer.” So why do we need cute little names for the penis and vagina?
When we give our children confidence about knowing about their body; who it belongs to, what it does, what the parts are called, our children are better equipped to recognize when a pedophile is testing how much they can get away with in trying to break the social rules they have been taught.
In effect, “We disarm the pedophile.”
“Grooming” in the sexual abuse context is known as the steps taken by a pedophile to form a relationship with the child, gain trust, and begin the process of “testing” to see what they can get away with before the risk of being caught gets too high. This is an entire topic of its own and every parent should seek to understand it
Some examples include;
· Being really friendly and trying to connect with the child around the child’s interests, whether it be building with blocks, playing with matchbox cars or playing video games.
· Tickling could be a sign of grooming. The potential offender tickles the child, getting the expected laughing that is often an involuntary response to tickling. They watch closely to see if the child will pull away or run behind the parent, or if an adult will intervene with a “we have a no tickling rule in our family.” If they are not stopped, their next step might be to get closer to between the child’s legs for the “tickle.” Once again, they tell observe the response of the child and any onlookers. If they are “caught,” it can simply have been an accident and they move on to another potential victim.
· They might tell the child an insignificant “secret” and see if the child keeps it. This is just a test. Children who can be trusted with little secrets, can be trusted with bigger secrets.
· They might use a child’s lack of knowledge about their body parts by using a “silly” name for the part and joking about it or playing a “show me” game. When a child has learned a few basics about their digestive system, they know that the liquid that they drank that their body didn’t need to use for energy comes out of their penis. They don’t think that their “wee-wee” is a silly thing that gets a lot of giggles and causes “red faces” (i.e. embarrassment). They know that their penis is an important part of their body and a part that is needed by them and only them. There is no reason to show or to share. Every boy and man has one and they keep it to themselves.
Look Inside Your Body
This book and others like it, lift-the-flap type, sometimes become favorites of young children. You can begin very early teaching your child some very simplistic facts about where food goes when they chew and then swallow; how their muscles and bones are working under their skin. A child who knows some of HOW their body works, will be much more confident when they get a stomach bug, or constipation, or a broken bone.
Many parts are covered.
The Care & Keeping You
For girls - There are now more titles in the series. This is the American Girl Book that so many people already know about. It covers basic facts about a preteen/teenager’s emotional and physical life changes. There are no, so-called “liberal” values pushed and there are no so-called “conservative” values pushed. It’s your basic pimple, bra, tampon and pad, braces, etc. information, beautifully illustrated and presented. Depending on the emotional and physical level of development the girl you are giving it to is at, it could very well be appropriate to introduce this book at 9 or 10 years old, but possibly later with some girls.
When girls (and boys) know what to expect BEFORE changes occur, they are looking forward to these changes. When they come by surprise, girls and boys are often embarrassed.
The Bare Naked Book
I really like this book for preschool and even younger. It is a basic body part labeling book, nicely illustrated, that shows mostly just what is needed to be shown, but generally no more, (i.e. there is no need in this medium to show the genital or reproductive area of an older child or adult, and it is NOT shown).
I am NOT in favor of family bathroom time, which is depicted here. I simply told my child, and children in my office, that “In our family we take turns in the bathroom and give each other privacy.” The same goes for naked swimming, even for toddlers. There is a picture of a kiddy pool where an illustrated child is naked. I use the same kind of response.
The Boy's Body Book
This book is on par with The Care & Keeping of You, but for boys. Again, no values pushing. It should be presented when the adult notices that the boy appears to be just about entering puberty or a little before if you can time it well.
The Girl's Body Book
Same as The Boy’s Body Book, only for girls.
It's My Body
Appropriate to introduce at the same time as other simple books around 3 or 4 years old. This book is very simple and very good, but with no special illustrations or colors; simple black and white drawings mostly of the main child. I have been using this book professionally for 20 years. A very basic, “It’s my body and I can say ‘no.’”
The Trouble With Secrets
Same series as It’s My Body. Very good. I’ve been using it for years.
Child Safety 101
Excellent book for adults. Every household should have one and every mother AND father should read it.
It covers lots of topics of child safety in a condensed, organized format. We were headed to Disney when I first read this book. Some of the hotel safety tips were really good to read right before a vacation.
The following resources are ones that I once used but use no longer.
A Very Touching Book
This book covers good touching, bad touching and secret touching. I no longer use this book because, though the characters are all cartoon, it is very graphic. In some regards, upon first glance, it seems like it would be very good to show all ages, all body types, etc. It tries to cause a reader to get a giggle, like people getting on a bus naked, or in the public showers. The book is too graphic in my opinion. Using it with children who have been sexually abuse is very risky. The nature of the images can be very overwhelming for children. I understand that some might disagree with me.
It's Perfectly Normal
Big risk here, I go against lots of professionals here, including the well renowned Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (whom btw I have learned a lot from), and other very influential professionals and academies in the field of child health.
It is my opinion, (shared by some very mature teenagers) that the look is NOT values neutral. There is a
definite bias. I believe it is too graphic and explanatory (even though it also is in cartoon form) and can stir a
lot of emotion, hormones and confusion about what young people this age are and should be doing. I believe that it is sufficient to explain to a boy that they will experience emotional and physical feelings and changes as they develop and that is “perfectly normal.” I do not believe the author needed to go on to show cartoon images of boys with erections, masturbating, sitting with their “girlfriend” and depicting these changes. I could go through it chapter by chapter, and many may disagree with me.
The point with any of these books is for parents to review the material first. Talk with the other parent before
exposing the child to a book, topic or other material. ASK, ASK, ASK for the curriculum in your child’s health, sex education and/or science class as early as Kindergarten and go over all material that your child is bringing home on the subjects, particularly in light of the Common Core.
It is YOUR responsibility to teach your child about their body, their safety and your values.
Other Considerations That Need To Be Thought Through and Consciously Decided by Parents
We give our children messages about rules in life, just by living with them. Messages about privacy, self-respect and pride in what belongs to them, come from just living together. The way that some of these issues are lived out can place children at a higher risk of abuse.
Family values and beliefs, developmental level of the child, age of the child, stage of sexual maturations, etc. are all things that need to be considered.
· The family bed
· The open door bathroom
· The sibling tub
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
If you would like more information or a consultation, please go to www.tracylamperti.com. If you have any concerns that your child or a child you know may be being sexually abused, please consult with myself or another professional trained in this area right away. Sexual abuse has lasting and devastating effects on an individual and our community. You can help protect your own or another child.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Psychotherapist, Educator, Consultant
Cape Cod Moms