Child sexual abuse: what you can do to protect your kids

Child sexual abuse: what you can do to protect your kids
“Sandusky was found guilty today,” my husband told me in the evening. I was glad for the news, yet as justifying as it may be to lock up a high-profile criminal, more roam free and prey on children. Many of them are close relatives or trusted friends of the family—the charming guy who earns the parents’ trust and plays well with the kids. This, compounded with my already-heightened paranoia, does not make for one happy mama.

Unlike other child safety issues like pool safety and road rules, child sexual abuse remains clouded with taboo that needs to be lifted. While we should encourage trust in others and self-sufficiency in themselves, we also need to balance their growing independence with information and a protocol to keep them safe.

Even though our toddler is only 2-years-old, we hold six general approaches that will hopefully help him understand and know what is acceptable or not (the first three we apply now while the last three we plan to tell him when he’s older and can comprehend better):

1. You have 100% jurisdiction over your body.
One of the reasons we don’t force our toddler to kiss and hug everyone is so he knows that he determines who gets to touch him. I’m also a hawk over others who want to tickle or kiss him excessively when he clearly isn’t having any of it and will step in on his behalf. With few exceptions (hygiene, health and safety, namely), we do our best to respect our toddler’s body to drive the point that his body is his own to touch.

2. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to others, even adults.
We “respect the no” and acknowledge or stop when our toddler says so. Adults have authority, but that doesn’t mean we’re always right, and we want our toddler to know that he can absolutely question and even defy authority should he feel it appropriate to do so.

3. We call our body parts by their anatomically-correct names.
Part of the taboo of child sexual abuse (or anything sexual really) is that we apply these funny names to our privates rather than using the anatomically correct names. The message? These parts can be shameful, aren’t to be mentioned, or are silly and funny. I get where this comes from; I myself have a hard time saying their names sometimes. But when an arm is called an ‘arm’ but privates are something completely different, he might assume that these issues aren’t easily talked about.

4. Trust your gut.
When something doesn’t feel right, even if it can’t be explained clearly, it’s okay to trust your gut. Predators often rely on their role as the trustworthy, charming guy or the authoritative, can’t-be-wrong guy, so it can be difficult for kids to listen to their feelings and defy people they’re supposed to trust.

5. Tell. Keep telling until someone listens.
We plan to tell our toddler that he should absolutely tell his mom or dad anything. And if we don’t listen, he should tell his grandmas. And his aunts and uncles. And his teachers. And keep telling until someone listens and acts on his behalf. I also want to ensure that there are no secrets kept between us, and that anyone saying they’ll hurt him or his family if he tells is all the more reason to speak up.

6. People have designated roles in your life, and no one should be crossing those lines.
For instance, it’s more appropriate for parents to cuddle and show physical affection with their kids than other adults. And as kids grow older, affection tends to lessen in lieu of more space and physical boundaries. Older men also shouldn’t be showering kids with gifts. And teachers should definitely not be blindfolding and giving kids cookies (or anything to eat, for that matter).

Hardly any parent wants their child to be the victim of sexual abuse; the mere thought of it makes me cry and get angry at the same time (which is why I can’t bring myself to read some of the crazy headlines in the news). Sadly, it happens far too often, and with victims so vulnerable, parents need to step up and ensure that we’re doing all that we can to keep our kids safe. Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but every little bit of action helps.

How do you educate your kids about child sexual abuse? What other tips can you offer to help protect children?

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Project Unplugged: What I learned by disconnecting from technology

Weekend links and Project Unplugged—the recap
I did it—I unplugged. I decided to honor the National Day of Unplugging by disconnecting from technology for a few hours, not nearly the 24 hours originally called for, but enough to pose a challenge. Right away I noticed that not having my computer or phone turned on freed me from any guilt about sending just one more text or sneaking in a quick computer check. Instead, I focused 100% on my toddler with zero distractions. We were able to play and I hardly left his side to jump in front of a monitor.

I won’t lie though; I learned was just how immersed I am with technology, particularly my computer. I had a list of to-dos—input my expenses into my finance app, place books on hold at the library, find new recipes—that all required technology. These activities weren’t exactly the time-wasting stereotypes of surfing endlessly on Facebook or playing Zuma Blitz online; they were actual tasks needed to run a household that all entailed plugging in.

That said, I took pleasure in the fact that even without technology, I was able to find my own entertainment. This may be the biggest reason among many that I don’t promote gadgets with my toddler—he has many years to hone his digital skills, and the learning curve for computers isn’t that steep. But he only has this one childhood to rely on his imagination and ingenuity to learn and play. That may be why Silicon Valley employees sends their kids to computer-free schools, despite their success vastly relying on said technology.

Unplugging for a few hours can also provide an opportunity to focus on tasks that fare better without distractions. SSBE reader Lil Sophie’s Mom from The Bathroom Floor found herself in such circumstances when she unplugged for the evening as well. With a baby in bed and no technology to fiddle with, she used the opportunity to work on custom orders and bracelets, working intensely in flow without the distractions of text messaging and the internet to break her focus.

SSBE reader Jamily5 from Parenting Past Perceptions reported on having unplugged for a whole 24 hours. While her technology-loving husband wasn’t supportive of the idea—citing it as a nonsensical fad where, when over, we’ll simply return to our gadgets—she continued to play with her baby and find other means to entertain herself. And I do agree that, for the long-term, unplugging all the time isn’t realistic in our lives nowadays (I do write a blog, after all), but it can still serve as a reminder to focus on our families and projects with little to no distractions.

Or we can follow in SSBE reader Sillyliss‘ example, where she describes a weekly sabbatical from technology that happens in her house from Friday to Saturday nights. During this time, her family stays away from TV and computers and instead spends time together.

Technology isn’t so much this terrible evil that we have to rid ourselves of. Computers, the internet, our phones—these gadgets provide us the very means of communicating with one another, bringing information to our screens, and enable us to have some fun too. But as with anything, too much can be overwhelming. Rather than enjoying my toddler’s storytelling and antics, I sometimes find myself wishing for bedtime already so that I can hop on the computer. Perhaps it’s these times that call for a balance, a little unplugging, and more face-to-face, family time. Just like SSBE reader Sillyliss says:

That’s the part that I like most, not that we turn the things off, but that it’s something we all do together.

How have you tried unplugging from technology to lessen distraction and focus on family and important matters?

p.s. Thank you to contributing SSBE readers who offered their stories and experiences with Project Unplugged!

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“Respect the no”: 3 reasons to listen when kids say no

"Respect the no": 3 reasons to listen when kids say no
The other day, my toddler was eating strawberries and yogurt for breakfast when, with still a few bites left, he said he wanted to get down. “Here’s another bite,” my husband offered, scooping up the remaining yogurt. Thankfully our toddler didn’t hear him because I whispered to my husband, “Don’t offer him more yogurt—he already said ‘no’.”

My toddler loves to eat, so sometimes we’re incredulous to the times when he doesn’t want to finish his meal. With that in mind, it’s easy for us to dismiss him when he actually says no to food. I’m glad I caught it with the yogurt, but I’m willing to bet we had made the same mistake a few times in the past. I wondered if maybe he doesn’t tell us he’s done because we don’t always listen to him when he does.

In addition to mealtimes, below are a few more examples of when we’re likely to disregard his no’s:

  • Tickling him. It’s so easy to tickle kids—they’re so darn cute, and they’re laughing, right? But tickling can eventually get too much, and being the little people they are, kids can often feel helpless in defending themselves. I try to be mindful of not tickling my toddler when he says no, even amidst laughter.
  • Asking him incessant questions. I doubt any parent actually annoys their kids on purpose, but we often have to pay attention to when they’ve had enough. It could be something as innocent as asking for a hug or suggesting to read a book several times when he already said no.
  • During transitions. Sometimes transitions have to happen—if we have to leave the house by 8:20, we have to leave by 8:20. But other transitions could be a bit more flexible so that if I suggest going to the park and he has already said no, I should just leave it at that and recommend the outing at a later time.

And it’s this last point that this thought began formulating in my mind. SSBE reader An Honest Mom coined the term “respect the no” in a recent comment where she wrote:

Now, the thing that I parrot all day long is, “respect the ‘no.’ ” If J wants someone else’s toy, I encourage him to ask “Can I have that please?” and then he has to respect the yes or the no. The harder part for me, for whatever reason, is defending J’s need to say no sometimes. Chalk it up to wanting to be liked, maybe. So it feels like therapy everytime I ask another kid to respect J’s “No.” Coincidentally, I’m learning to respect the “no” too.

After encouraging my toddler to tell us when he’s done eating only to dismiss him once he does provides little incentive for him to do so again. And while it’s easy to ignore them, it’s imperative that parents listen to kids when they say no because doing so:

1. Teaches kids that they have boundaries.
Especially when it comes to tickling or annoying them, we have to stop when they ask us to stop. When we don’t, we invade their personal space and send the wrong message that adults can simply tickle or annoy the heck out of them with little regard to their feelings.

2. Lets them know that they have a voice.
When we stop because they asked us to, we’re telling them that they’re important and that their words are taken into consideration. While parents have authority, kids can also learn that they have a voice, and that parents and adults aren’t always right.

3. Encourages them to stand up for what’s important to them.
Kids who are encouraged to say “no” when they’re playing with a toy will likely learn how to stand up for what’s important to them. Today it may be a toy, tomorrow it can be their personal values, a job promotion they deserve, or a passion they want to pursue.

We’ve since been more mindful of when our toddler says no. He enjoys tickling and rough housing, but after a while when he’s had enough and wants to stop, we listen and “respect the no.”

How do you handle it when your kids say ‘no’?

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Project Unplugged: Can you disconnect from technology?

Project Unplugged: Can you disconnect from technology?
This year, National Day of Unplugging started sundown on March 23rd until sundown on March 24th. Of course in typical blogging- and iPhone-addicted style, I ended up spending a ton of those 24 hours writing posts and swiping my phone on. I wish I could say I didn’t get the memo, but it’s more like I chose to hide it behind my email window. Sigh… for shame!

But now I want to try unplugging again, and later I’ll explain my plans. First, let’s talk about why unplugging from technology can be beneficial for you and your kids.

Increased attention span
As important and even necessary as technology has been for us, its over-use can lead to decreased attention spans. Remember when email used to be fast? Now even that’s considered slow compared to texting and instant messaging. This constant flickering and instant speed prevents us from slowing down and focusing on a task. We’re unproductive because for every distraction, we need to spend more time trying to get back in the zone and even remembering where we left off. Even doing a single task like being on a computer can lead to mind-numbing multi-tasking. Who here hasn’t worked on a project while checking email, responding to a chat message and typing a quick Facebook status?

Not being on-call
Email and texting are easily accessible thanks to smart phones for when you want to check your email for the zillionth time. We expect people to always be on call, so that if someone doesn’t immediately respond to our text, we’re caught off guard: “Why isn’t she responding?” We check our phones and computers throughout the day, whether first thing in the morning before our eyes are even fully awake, when we’re playing with our kids, or even—eeks!—while at a red light in the car (I’m guilty of all three, by the way). Accessibility is awesome (especially when your husband wants to know exactly how much watercress you needed at the grocery), but at a certain point we have to cut ourselves off from the virtual world and take our time back.

Meaningful relationships
The inspiration for this post happened two nights ago, when not only was I on my computer from 7:30pm to 10:30pm, but I completely ignored discussing a movie with my husband and instead got frustrated with a technical problem with one of my online accounts. Computer time is fine, especially since my husband also like to log online and we even discuss topics we find on the internet, but after a reasonable time, we normally close our laptops and talk the way generations of people have done in the past: face to face.

The same goes with my toddler. When I’m home with him, I end up checking my blog or email. Alone time is good for him, but when your kid is clearly trying to get your attention and you sort of half-ass your responses, “Oh yeah? The red balloon? Wow!” without even looking to see that he was actually pointing at the cow jumping over the moon, it’s time to unplug. My toddler is master of unplugging since he doesn’t watch TV and we don’t let him play on our phones or computers. Now if only we could be somewhat more disciplined like him!

The plan to unplug
I doubt I’ll go back to tapping away on my computer for three hours straight again while my husband tries to make sense of the plot line in Transformers 3, but I still want to lessen my screen time. I plan to do no more than one hour of computer time in the evenings and to stay away from my phone completely while my toddler is awake and I’m the only one alone with him.

But just to take it up a notch, I want to spend several hours away from all technology. From 6pm until I hit the hay tonight, I’m going to unplug. I’m turning my computer and phone off completely so that I won’t try to sneak a peek or use the excuse, “I thought I heard my phone ring.” And I’m putting myself out there on this blog so that you can hold me accountable and I won’t “forget” like I did last month.

Join me!
And for you brave souls, I invite you to join me and unplug. Here’s the challenge: Pick a day this week and choose several hours to unplug completely from your own devices, whether it’s your computer, phone, television, or video games. You can choose however short or long you want it to be (although for this to be even somewhat meaningful, it’s probably best to challenge yourself a bit). You can unplug the same hours I did, pick the time of day when you find yourself overloaded with technology, or follow the original 24 hours of sundown to sundown from National Day of Unplugging.

After you survived, let us know how you did:

  • How many hours were you unplugged?
  • What devices did you unplug from?
  • What did you do with your time instead?
  • How did you feel while you were unplugged—liberated? bored? itching to plug back in?
  • Is this something you’d like to try again from time to time?
  • If you tried but weren’t able to remain unplugged, what happened?
  • And if you don’t even think you can participate at all, how come?

Let me know in the comments section below whether you plan to join me and unplug, and once you do, how your experience went. I’ll write a recap of my own unplugging and include your stories as well. If you have a blog and want to write about unplugging in more detail on your site, you can also send me a link to your post.

Okay, no backing down this time! I hope you’ll join me.

Will you join me in unplugging from technology? If you’ve already done so, how did you do?

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“It’s okay”: Why you shouldn’t dismiss your child’s emotions

"It's okay": Why you shouldn't dismiss your child's fears-shovel and pail at the beach
“Let’s go to the beach!” I suggested to my toddler on a recent day off. The weather had finally started warming up, if even just to sit on the sand and hear the waves slapping back and forth. I packed up our blanket and toys, slathered on some sunscreen and headed out.

But once I set my toddler down on the sand on his bare feet, he cried, “Want to carry up!” Apparently he didn’t want to stand on the sand.  So off I go carrying my 30-plus pound toddler and a heavy, oversized tote bag across sandy beach. Once I picked a spot though, I had no choice but to put him down so that I could spread the blanket out. Immediately he starts crying again.

“It’s okay—it’s just sand,” I reassured him. I assumed he had just been finicky about dirt on his feet, something so trivial to me. I was even more befuddled considering that we had gone to the beach several times in the past (albeit, none too recently) where he was perfectly content strolling on the sand. But more honestly, I was probably annoyed that he wasn’t making this any easier on me. Meanwhile, I finally spread the blanket over the sand and my toddler promptly plopped himself down.

As I sat with my toddler on my lap, I dug my hands in the sand, patting it and letting the sand filter through my fingers. “You can try it too,” I told him. And only as he stretched out his arm to touch the sand did I notice that his little hand was shaking ever so slightly. In that moment I realized my mistake in simply brushing aside his cries or assuming that he ought to just get over the sand. He was scared. And rather than accepting his fear as normal and real, I dismissed it as petty, when clearly his shaking hand showed that it was not.

It’s so easy to say “It’s okay.” We often do so to soothe our kids after they fall and get hurt. Or sometimes we use it as a means to reassure their emotions, whether it’s fear of sand, uncertainty about a new environment, or a scuffle with another kid. Saying “It’s okay” seems like a viable way to erase their hurt and frustration.

But to toddlers and young kids, these emotions are very real to them—as real as our own adult emotions are to us—and they may not be ready to be rid of them so quickly. They know so little of our world, having only experienced so much and with brains not yet fully developed. They feel a wide range of emotions—anxiety, fear, jealousy—but have limited understanding and language to fully absorb their meaning or express them verbally. When we refrain from brushing aside their emotions and instead acknowledge them in a genuine way, we provide the following:

  • A chance to sort through their feelings. Imagine you got in a fight with a friend, and a volcanic eruption of emotions is swirling in you: jealousy of her new success, feeling rejected, anxiety over how to proceed with your friendship. You turn to another friend to try to sort through all these emotions, but instead your other friend simply says, “It’s okay.” In your mind, it’s not okay; you’re far from feeling the least bit okay. When I told my toddler “It’s okay” during the beach, I didn’t provide an opportunity to discuss what he may be feeling. There were still too many emotions in him that I completely ignored by simply saying “It’s okay.”
  • Feeling respected. When we take the time to address their emotions and not brush them off as silly, we’re telling our kids that we respect their feelings and that they’re no less valid than adult feelings. They won’t feel belittled or inconsequential for being afraid of shadows on a wall or upset that another kid took their shovel. And when we address their fears instead of chiding them with, “Are you being a scardy cat?” they’ll understand that you take their emotions seriously.
  • Quicker way to reduce negative emotions. In taking the time to sort through my toddler’s emotions, we help him have a better chance to resolve whatever uncertain feelings he may have, rather than simply burying it inside to sprout up later. When he would cry hysterically at bath time, I worked around his fears—such as setting the faucet to a slow trickle instead of a steady downpour, raising the temperature, or using my hands instead of a washcloth—instead of just forcing him to take a bath.

Once I realized my mistake in glossing over my toddler’s genuine fear of the sand, I changed my approach. I was less irritable at his cries and instead respected his emotions and hesitation at touching the sand. I explained that this sand was very similar to the one he plays with at the playground. I took the lead and played with the sand, but didn’t coerce him to follow suit. I recommended walking on the sand but respected his decision when he said no. And when it was time to fold up the blanket, I suggested he stand on my flip flops if he didn’t want sand all over his feet.

He never did end up taking a stroll with me on the beach. The most daring he got was using his hands to play on the sand while he kept his feet safely tucked away on the blanket. And that’s fine. At least he knows his feelings are valid and won’t simply be brushed away as inconsequential.

Have you ever found yourself saying “It’s okay” to your kids when they’re afraid or get hurt?

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