It is a parent’s job to worry about their children — to ensure all of their needs are taken care of. But there is one need that we don’t always think of — in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and trying to make sure everyone is fed and clothed — and that is the importance of encouraging frequent and thorough communication with and from the children themselves. A key component of discovering, and putting an end to, child sexual abuse is disclosure. Disclosure is when child sexual abuse is brought to light — because the child told someone, because someone else witnessed what happened, or for many other possible reasons. But oftentimes, in order to have disclosure, we first need to foster an environment of safety and security with our kids. Children need to know that they can come to their parents, and other trusted adults in their lives, with the absolute certainty that they will be listened to and taken seriously. It is important to establish this sense of trust and safety with your child from early on — instead of waiting until something bad has happened.
But how can you accomplish this?
The first step is to spend time talking to your child everyday, and most importantly, letting them do the talking. Do you drive your kid to school? Spend the commute talking about their favorite subjects. Listen to what they are excited about, and ask questions. Even if it is the fiftieth time you’ve heard the same story, doing this on a daily basis shows your child that you are interested in their life and share their excitements.
But maybe your child is a bit older and has reached that stage where they no longer think it is “cool” to hang out with mom or dad. What happens then? Though it often doesn’t seem like it, continuing to persevere in holding — or attempting to hold — frequent conversations with your child does actually make a difference. Even on those days when it seems like your kid is just sullenly refusing to share with you, the very act of you asking, of you showing a consistent interest in their experiences and opinions, does make a difference to your child and the way in which they view you. It is also an important way to strengthen the bond between you — building trust and confidence.
But talking to your child is not all there is to it. You need to show them that you are listening, and that you are a safe person to confide in even when they have done things that you might not approve of. So often, when children talk to us, we find what they say to be so “cute”, “charming”, or “silly” that we can run the risk of making fun of them — thus giving them the impression that we’re not taking them seriously. Similarly, we have this concept that confidentiality is a privilege granted to adults — and as such we often have no qualms about sharing our child’s concerns and experiences with others, even at times when the child has asked us not do so. What may be a cute, funny story to you and your friends or family members, might actually be an incident of great importance in your child’s young life that they did not want everyone around them to know about. No matter how silly you think it might be, keeping your child’s confidentiality when they ask you to means that you are showing them that you truly are listening to them and that their wants and desires are important. A child who knows that their parents listen to them, without dismissing what they say as being “silly” — and who is confident that their parents respect them enough to keep their confidentiality — is also a child who is much more likely to come to their parents immediately when something bad has happened.