It's never too late to begin the healing process from childhood sexual abuse. It's never too early to fall in love with the person God created you to be. Long ago someone made a choice to take away your innocence, but today that someone can't touch your freedom to heal.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Boundaries (Part Four)

No child was injured during this photo shoot.
Imagine you're three foot nothing. The world is big, very big! Adults are tall, really tall!

"Guess what, Pumpkin, today we're going to a family reunion," your mother says as she pulls open your bedroom blinds. "Time to get dressed."

You use your little fists to wipe the sleep from your eyes. You're not quite sure what a reunion is, but your mom tells you you're going to have fun, lots of fun.

A Child’s Perspective: Take One

After a long ride in the minivan, you're happy to be out of your booster seat. Your mom takes your hand and you enter a room, a really big room. There are people, really big people--everywhere. Suddenly a woman you don't know comes racing up to you. The next thing you know all you can see are big red lips, all you can smell is coffee breath, all you can hear is "Oh, isn't she a cutie patootie?", and all you can feel are your cheeks being pulled so tight you want to yell OUCH, but you can't move your lips into the OU position.

Next thing you know, you see giant hairy arms grabbing you. They pull you twenty feet off the ground. You try to look up to see who it is, but you can't. Your right cheek, still sore from Red Lips, is crushed up against someone's big green shirt. All you can see is green, all you can smell is bad aftershave, all you can hear is "Grrherherherher", and all you can feel is every ounce of air being squeezed from your tiny body. Finally, that someone lowers you to the ground. You spot your mom across the room. You run as fast as you can away from Red Lips and Green Shirt and nearly topple your mom over as you grab her legs, refusing to let go.

Being a kid is scary sometimes. Adults forget that.

A Child's Perspective: Take Two

After a long ride in the minivan, you're happy to be out of your booster seat. Your mom takes your hand, bends down, and looks you in the eye, "Now remember, you don't have to hug or kiss anyone if you don't want to. It's okay to say no thank you. I'll be right here if you need me."

You enter a room, a really big room. There are people, really big people--everywhere. Suddenly a woman you don't know comes walking up to you, she stoops down, looks you in the eye, and says, "Well hello, Sarah, it's so nice to meet you. My goodness, you're a cutie patootie."

You see her smiling face and reach out for a hug. She hugs back. You smile.

The next thing you know a giant man in a green shirt bends over, looks you in the eye, and says, "Hello Sarah."

You know him. He's your uncle.

"Do you have any hugs for your ole uncle Frank today?"

"No thank you, I don't feel like hugging right now."

"No problem. It sure is good to see you. My how you've grown. How about a high-five?"

You feel safe. You slap him a high-five. You giggle. You look up at your mom and smile. She smiles back.

Teaching kids that they can set boundaries and say no is wise all the time. Adults need to remember that.

Empowering children to say no to adults, when they don't feel like hugging or kissing, is our fourth step in protecting our children. Perpetrators avoid confident children who know they can set boundaries. Perpetrators avoid knowledgeable, confident kids (step three) who have a relationship with their parents (step two), especially those parents who refuse to ignore the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse (step one).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Instruction (Part Three)

"But how does the sperm get to the egg?" he asked.

Our eight year old (yes, eight year old) wasn't going to settle for a generalized answer. A budding engineer, who was right by his daddy's side anytime something needed to be repaired, he knew if daddies carry the sperm, and mommies carry the egg, and the sperm and the egg make a baby, then somehow parents have to connect to make a baby. And his inquiring mind wouldn't rest until he knew how.

I looked at my husband. He looked back at me. Our eyes spoke the unspoken.

Your turn.

No, your turn.

No, really, Honey, you can answer that one. Go for it. (wink)

I honestly can't remember who answered, but aside from our desire to pass the ball on this one, we were so glad he asked--us.

Conversations about sex make parents sweat. But when we are uncomfortable discussing a topic, our kids pick up on it. They are experts at taking our emotional temperatures, and if we are uncomfortable, they will be uncomfortable. If they sense us avoiding a subject, they will avoid the subject. And they will find answers to their questions somewhere, and they may not be the correct answers--the answers you want them to have.

Sex Ed. 101, taught by parents, should begin early. It is a critical step in protecting our kids from sexual abuse. Instruction can begin in the bathtub when you're teaching your little ones self care. As you teach them to wash their bodies, label the parts as you go--all the parts--with the correct names. A nose is a nose,  a  hand is a hand, a penis is a penis, and a vagina is a vagina. I know, I know, the last two don't roll off the tongue as easily as the first two, do they? But let me cheer you on. You can do it!!! Stand in front of the mirror and practice saying "those words" if you have to, but don't miss an opportunity to teach your kids. Why? Because kids who have knowledge are confident, and perpetrators avoid knowledgeable, confident kids. Why? Because kids who are knowledgeable and confident tell. And perpetrators don't want to get caught.

Let the heart aching words of a survivor of sexual abuse stir your heart into action: "How could I put into words something for which my ten year old vocabulary had no words?" I wept with her when she asked me that question. Her words still bring a lump to my throat. She had "no words." She was a victim, and she couldn't tell.

Let's give our kids the confidence. Let's give our kids the vocabulary. We don't need to fear the conversations.

Even though I can't remember whether it was my husband or me who responded to my son's question, I remember my son's response:

"So, you do that to have babies, right?"


"You guys are done having babies, right?"



I was glad for his sake, and for ours, that we were "done" having babies. And he, being satisfied with our answer, was done with our conversation and raced off to play.

Giving our kids confidence through giving them knowledge is our third step in protecting our kids from sexual abuse. Perpetrators avoid knowledgeable, confident kids (step three) who have a relationship with their parents (step two), especially those parents who refuse to ignore the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse (step one).

Here is a book series I recommend to parents for teaching their kids about sex. I'm using them with my foster daughters. God's Design for Sex Series: The Story of Me (Ages Three to Five),  Before I Was Born (Ages Five to Eight), What's the Big Deal? Why God Cares About Sex (Ages Eight to Eleven), and Facing the Facts: The Truth About Sex and You (Ages Eleven to Fourteen).

I will be giving a set of these books away to one of you soon. Keep following for details.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Foundation (Part Two)

Piglet: "How do you spell love?"

Pooh: "You don't spell it. You feel it." (A. A. Milne)

A wise statement from a bear whose head is stuffed with fluff, don't ya think? Pooh and his friends always make me smile and long to climb into the pages of the book and spend a day in The Hundred Acre Wood. If only life could be that innocent, that safe, for us and for our children.

But the statistics shout even if we ignore them. One out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will be sexually violated by their eighteenth birthday. Sexual abuse is an epidemic. It won't just disappear. So how do we, as loving parents, begin to inoculate our children against this heinous threat? Let's dissect the wisdom from our little friend, Pooh.

We spell love in many ways for our children. We provide food, clothing, and shelter. We help with homework, taxi them to games and concerts, take them to their well checks once a year, and the list goes on and on. But we can spell it forwards and backwards, upside down and right-side-up, and if our children don't feel loved, we've opened the door wide for an abuser to abuse. Children who don't feel loved are easy targets for perpetrators, and perpetrators are looking for easy targets.

So how do children feel loved? I'll defer to the experts on this one and recommend two books. (I know, I know, who has time to read? I promise you, these books are worth the time.)

In his best selling book, How to Really Love Your Child, Dr. Ross Campell encourages parents to convey love to their children through four areas: eye contact, physical contact, focused attention, and discipline. It's my favorite parenting book. A friend recommended it to me long ago. I needed it. I'm a "doer". I like to get things done--check things of my list. "Doers" buzz right by Dr. Campell's first three principles. Believe me, my kids are better off because I read the book and now that I'm entering take-two of my parenting (foster children), it's time for me to read it again.

The Five Love Languages of Children, by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campell, is another great read for parents who want their children to feel loved. The authors divide how children (and adults) "hear" love into five languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. I have a child who's a hugger. He grabs a hold of his momma often. His momma, who's not a hugger, but a quality time kinda gal, needs to grab a hold of her hugger often. That's how he best understands love. Great book.

Over the next several weeks I'll give you more tips on how to protect your kids, but nothing will give your kids more protection than your love communicated in ways your children can understand it, or as Pooh Bear wisely states, in ways they can feel it.

Building a relationship with your children where they feel loved and valued is the second step in protecting them from sexual abuse. Refusing to ignore the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse is the where we begin.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Definition (Part 1)

"Do you see anything wrong with what she's wearing?" asked the editor as he pointed to the illustration of the little girl in overalls. He had just read my sexual abuse prevention manuscript and now he was evaluating the illustrations.

"No." I responded.

"Think about it."

I looked back at the illustration hoping the answer would jump off the page. It didn't. I turned toward him, "I'm sorry," I said, my eyebrows and shoulders raised, "I'm just not getting it."

He hesitated. I waited.

" could someone touch her, you know, in her private areas, with those [overalls] on?"

There is much confusion as to what constitutes sexual abuse. Before we begin our discussion on protecting our kids from sexual abuse, let me give you a definition from an expert who has spent years counseling survivors.

"Sexual abuse is any contact or interaction (visual, verbal, or psychological) between a child/adolescent and an adult when the child/adolescent is being used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or any other person. Sexual abuse may be committed by a person under the age of eighteen when that person is either significantly older than the victim or when the perpetrator is in a position of power or control over the victimized child/adolescent." (The Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allender, Navpress, 1995, page 48.)

I didn't rattle off this definition to the editor. He was already overwhelmed--clearly uncomfortable with the topic.

"A violation is a violation," I responded, "regardless of whether it was above the clothes or beneath the clothes."

"You'd better include that in the back of your book or something." he said.

"Yes, I think I should."

Conversation ended.

Parents who refuse to ignore the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse have embraced the first step in protecting their kids from sexual abuse.

Please join me in learning more tips to protect your kids over the next several weeks. Stop by next week for step two.

Myth: Children are most often sexually abused by strangers in trench coats, white socks, and black shoes.

Fact: Ninety to ninety-five percent of children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust.
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