When I became pregnant at 20 years old, my biggest concerns were graduating from college on time, the fear of birthing her and being able to get a great job after her first year of life. Even though I was young, I knew I didn’t want to send her to daycare before the age of 1. I wanted her to be capable of pointing and communicating hurt if it had ever been done to her. The fear of someone abusing my child mentally, verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually did not come late in the game for me. It was immediate. My goal was to protect her as best as I could and to educate her on her body parts as early as possible.
Many people have a problem with teaching children nicknames for their private areas, but I am an advocate for it. I believe your child should learn and hear the name of the private areas early on, however, you should teach them a word that they can pronounce. I knew that saying the word “vagina” would be difficult for a child who was still learning English, so I chose a different one that she would be comfortable with. I vowed that once her language grew more advanced, I would teach her the correct saying, and I did. I remember seeing a post that talked about a child continuously telling her teacher about her uncle eating her cookie. The teacher thought it was harmless. The child’s mother learned about it at the parent-teacher conference and knew exactly what her child meant. The message of the post was to teach your child the appropriate name so that an adult or law enforcement will know to understand them. I think that is extremely important. But what about the kid that knows how to speak, but not well enough to say the word correctly? That’s why I teach my children by age or maturity.
Since the age of one, we’ve repeatedly gone over the names of her body parts and which ones were considered private parts. My husband and I always stressed the importance of telling either one of us if she ever felt uncomfortable or was touched inappropriately by anyone, including US. Still to this day, I tell my oldest daughter that if her father or I ever make her feel uncomfortable with our touch, please let us know, or tell the other parent if you’re scared to express your feelings.
The thing about little girls is you have to teach them how to wipe themselves correctly and how to properly clean themselves for a while. They may know the process, but you have to spend a lot of time checking behind them to make sure they are doing a good job. This is a job that I’ve taken on with my daughters, but I’ve educated my husband on what to do just in case anything ever happened to me. For a mother, it is routine to just check and wipe our children, but I don’t want my children to feel muted just because it’s mommy touching down there. I openly ask my oldest daughter to tell me if and when I make her feel uncomfortable. I continue to teach her that her private areas are not toys or playgrounds and should not be played with. So if anything ever tickled, she knew that it was an accident and that I never intended to make her feel played with or “good” down there.
As my daughter grew older and more aware of her body, I explained to her that her entire body is considered her private parts. If she doesn’t like the way someone touched her arm, say something. Someone made you feel uncomfortable with a touch to your back, say something. “It’s your body, and it is completely private. It is not a public object that anyone can touch without your permission.”
Good touch vs. bad touch is a continuous conversation in my household. My husband and I upgrade the conversation the older our oldest daughter gets. We’ve explained that a man or a woman could be inappropriate, and a child or teenager. We’ve taken the conversation from just a touch but to someone showing her their private parts, asking her to get into inappropriate positions or taking pictures of her. Also, it’s not just a touch, but putting their face, hands, and genitalia in places they don’t belong. We’ve shared with her that the person who could hurt her isn’t always a stranger, but someone that is close to our family or is family. When she was younger, I gave her soft examples of the evil things someone could say to make her afraid of telling us. For example, “No one will believe you,” “This was your fault,” “If you tell, I’ll kill you, and ” If you tell, I’ll kill your parents.”
When we were younger, my husband was a lot more aggressive with the conversation as expected. “Let daddy know, and I’ll take care of it.” Our daughter knew what that meant. However, I learned that was an issue and told him he had to change the tone of that comment. I learned that some children don’t tell because they are afraid the people they love will get in trouble. Whether it be the person that hurt them, or the person trying to protect them. He then changed his response to, “Please let mommy and daddy know so that we can have the opportunity to help you and make sure that the person doesn’t hurt you again.”
In addition, I continue to teach my daughter to respect other people’s space and bodies as well. I would never want my daughter to be the person who makes someone else feel uncomfortable. She knows that no means no, stop means stop, and don’t means don’t. Those words are complete sentences when it comes to someone’s needs, including hers. The answer is no unless she chooses to change it. Not by the influence or force of someone else.
Most importantly, we’ve taught our daughter that no matter what, we will believe her and do what is necessary to protect her. So many children tell their parents that something has happened to them, and the parent fails them by not believing or do nothing about it. There are some who also allow the abuser to still be around the child. I hate to say it, but I learned so much from a Facebook group filled with mothers. A member asked survivors if they had ever been molested or raped, please share why they did or didn’t tell in order to help us be better mothers to our children. It was so painful to read these women’s stories. There were hundreds of women with completely different stories. It was super eye-opening and educational. I appreciate those strong women.
There is no age too young to teach your children about their bodies, the names of the body parts, and good touch vs. bad touch. You don’t have to have a sexually based conversation. Speak to them in the way they understand and communicate. As the child grows older and mature, the conversation should as well. It’s not something you only talk about once, it’s continuous. It’s also vital that you create an environment where your child isn’t afraid to come to you. I’ve created a space with my daughter where I share personal thoughts and feelings with her so that she feels comfortable with having detailed conversations. She feels like it is a two-way street. Of course, I keep it age-appropriate.
Now that I have another daughter, I’ve begun the process with her. She just turned two and is already trying to say “vagina.” If I’m blessed to have a son in the future, the conversation will continue with him as well. I feel like our boys are forgotten in the conversation about molestation, but that’s a conversation for another day…
As usual, I’m no expert and what works for me and mine may not work for you and yours. The main point of this post is to get us parents and/or guardians in the habit of educating our children on their bodies and self-awareness in addition to their ABC’s. I hate the subject, but try to stay educated on it. I’ve seen articles where the abuser(s) were convicted, and others where the families were failed by the system. If you have any additional, helpful tips, please share them in the comments for others to learn from as well. If you have personal experience with this topic and are open to sharing, please feel free to send an email. It allows for anonymity and will help myself and others.