Parenting Expert, Nikki Bush, shares steps to follow when talking to kids about abuse

In the UK, statistics show that more than half of child abuse victims experience domestic abuse in later life.

According to Elizabeth Hartney, PhD, a psychologist, professor, and director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada, people who were sexually abused in childhood often engage in abusive relationships as adults. Some even become abusive themselves. The reasons for this perpetuating cycle of abuse can be viewed here.

1st for Women spoke to Human Potential and Parenting Expert, Nikki Bush, on how parents can best to talk to their kids about abuse to try and put an end to the vicious cycle.

Use teachable moments instead of The Talk

“Your relationship with your children is the best protection they have and parents must remember these are built over time,” says Nikki. “It is way too scary for your children to have the big sex talk, the big stranger danger talk or the big technology talk. That includes talking about abuse. It needs to be regular daily conversations and you do that from an early age by making the subjects accessible. That way your kids will be more open to talking about these topics with you.”

Teachable moments are around us all of the time and provide the opportunities to find out what children think about the things they see and hear. Listening to the radio in the car for example, and a story about abuse comes on the news, is an opportunity to ask your children about it. Even an inappropriate picture of a woman on a billboard is a time to say, ‘hey kids, what do you think about that, do you think that’s ok?’” By bringing the topic of abuse into everyday conversations allows your children to have open discussions about it with you.

Start early with body boundaries and more

Protecting your children against child abuse starts with some basic steps. In her book, co-authored with Ilze van der Merwe, Easy answers to awkward questions, there is a chapter on how the body has rights and will help your children understand the differences between boys and girls. The book explains things like good touch and bad touch, the different body parts between boys and girls and makes sure your kids understand the correct names for these.

“You might still have family names for private parts but your kids also need to know what their proper names are too. This conversation can happen from the time when they are in pre-school,” says Nikki. This is important as it will help your children speak to you about potential abuse using the right language.

It’s not about stranger danger anymore

You may have grown up on the advice, of Stranger Danger, but that term is considered outdated and should be replaced by ‘tricky person’, coined by Pattie Fitzgerald. Tricky person shifts the focus away from appearance towards behaviour and helps children identify dangerous people based on their actions or words, not simply whether they’re a stranger. Child abusers could very well be ‘authority figures’ versus complete strangers. Children need to, from an early age, be able to recognise whether someone has their best interest at heart or not.

“It’s important to explain to your kids that not everyone in the world is a bad person but there are some people who want to do bad things. They need to be aware of these dangers and a sure fire way of recognising a tricky person is when they either threaten or blackmail. Language such as ‘if you tell your parents I will hurt them’, ‘this is our little secret,’ should be recognised by children as negative and then they need to tell you when this happens,” says Nikki. This is common language used by adults who want to abuse children.

Technological times

Parents must also consider that in today’s digital world, abuse can happen online and there are a number of recorded examples of this. Children can become subjects of child abuse simply because they do not know who is actually behind the username. Child abusers will pose as children in order to gain trust and your kids need to know about this potential threat. Nikki suggests, “Give your children a mantra, such as, Stop, Block and Tell. This will help them to take immediate action online if they are being made to feel uncomfortable or hurt.”

A final key thing for parents to remember when they are having these conversations with their children is to remain as calm as possible. “When you get hysterical, you actually raise the fear level in children, because parental anxiety is very infectious. Sometimes this can stem from your own personal issues. If you do suspect there is a problem with your child, I would suggest to parents that they go for counselling themselves, even before they tackle this topic with their children. This way, parents can get the best out of the conversation with their kids and remain composed,” says Nikki.