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How Do You Discuss Difficult Topics With Your Toddler?

I guess I’ve had my head stuck in the sand a little bit lately. I just started reading about the Penn State scandal for the first time yesterday. And obviously, I was/am completely appalled by it.

But, beyond the scandal itself, the whole situation, along with the recently released study that almost half of 2,000 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in the past year at school, has my mind spinning.

I mean, some of the boys who were alleged victims in the Penn State scandal were SO young. And I realize that the reality is that there are even younger children who have been victims of sexual abuse or harassment.

After all, some of the facts are:

  • 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before she turns 18.
  • 26% of victims under the age of 12 are male.
  • More than 90% of child sex abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts.
  • 20% of child sex abuse victims are under the age of 8.

(Facts found at Darkness to Light.)

That last stat is the one that makes my heart start beating faster and brings tears to my eyes. So young, too young. Then I read this great post over on Strollerderby about being able to have honest conversations with our kids about sexual harassment and abuse, and giving them words to use and a safe place to be able to talk about these things.

And it begs the question for me, how young do we need to start talking to our kids about this difficult subject? And then, how in the world do we even begin to talk about such things with a toddler or young child?

It makes me so sick and sad to think about the fact that I probably should have already started to talk about this with my 4-year-old daughter. I mean, we’ve discussed that the parts of our body that are covered by our bathing suits are private and that we don’t show them or share them with anyone outside of our family.

But, we really haven’t gotten more specific than that, with good touch and bad touch, or that there might be older kids or people who could touch her in ways that make her feel uncomfortable, and really I’m not sure I even want to go there. She is still so young and innocent and I want to keep it that way.

Yet, unfortunately that innocence is what makes her vulnerable, and if she were to become a victim then that innocence would be ripped away. And, of course, that would be much, much worse then her loosing a little bit of her innocence because we talked to her about uncomfortable things and gave her words to use and a safe place to come if anything were to ever happen to her, God forbid.

I don’t want to take away her childhood, and yet, I really don’t want it to be stolen from her in an even more unthinkable way.

It breaks my heart, brings tears to my eyes, and also makes me crazy angry, that I even have to think and worry about how young I need to start discussing these kinds of topics with my children. But the reality is that I have to start talking about these things with her now. And my son, who is two, will have to join the conversation soon as well. It is my responsibility, and that responsibility weighs heavily on my heart.

Because sexual abuse is not something that we want to have to talk about. I think that’s part of the problem. We’d rather go on pretending like it can’t, or won’t happen to our kids. But the statistics tell us otherwise.

And so, we have to begin to help protect our children, and help them protect themselves, from a young age. We have to, with wisdom and grace, broach the subject with our young children, even though it feels so uncomfortable. We have to give our children the words to use, the understanding between good and bad touch, the confidence to say no, and the safety to share their experiences. We owe it to them. They are counting on us.

At what age do you think we as parents should start talking about this with our kids? How do you talk about difficult issues with your young children?

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