Thursday, March 4, 2010

Protecting the Gift

I mentioned this book, Protecting the Gift, in a post the other day. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Pretty intense and serious stuff. Because of that, how I handle teaching my kids about their bodies is a sensitive issue. So, as I am inclined to do, I read a lot on the subject. I get lots of opinions and hear a lot of experiences. I read websites and expert opinions. Protecting the Gift is one of the best books I've read on the subject. Anyone with children needs to read this book. The best way to protect a child from an abuser is to empower the child to say no, to defend themselves, to tell a safe adult. Teagan is at the age where we've already been laying the foundation (using actual names for body parts, emphasizing that her body is hers and no one is allowed to touch her private parts- I'm avoiding the body part names on the blog for the sake of avoiding bots and spammers and such- and so on) for a couple of years. Zach is at the age that we are just starting to lay the foundation. I've had a couple of examples happen lately that are part of this topic and I wanted to share them. A couple of weeks ago, Teagan and I were at Music Team. She loves coming to Music Team because she gets to see Pastor Jennifer, hang out and have special time with Mommy, and play with a couple kids who have parents at Music Team, too. One of my friends often brings her kids along. Her daughter is younger than Teagan, her son is older than Teagan. Her husband usually comes and meets them at church and then he entertains the kids while we practice. Sometimes they play in the church while we practice and sometimes he takes them to a Sunday School room to play or outside to the little playground or to explore the outdoor worship space. We were done with practice and I headed back to gather Teagan. I walked down the hall as she was exiting the Sunday School room (she hadn't seen me coming) and I hear the dad call out to her to come back and help clean up the toys she had been playing with. She gets bossy and tells him she's going to find me. At this point, I speak up and tell her that she's found me and that she needs to get in there and clean up the toys. And she did. On the drive home, I wanted to talk about what had happened. I asked her why she needed to go back and clean up the toys. She answered "Because friend's dad told me to." The message I pushed was that she needed to go back and clean up the toys because she had played with them- not because an adult had told her to do it. She had the opportunity to play with the toys and it was her responsibility to clean them up when she was done. And here is where I felt like I was walking a tightrope. I don't want her to distrust adults. I don't want her to feel stressed about the possibility of an adult hurting her or embarrassing her. I don't want her to be afraid of this particular dad or family. I also don't want her fully trusting every adult she meets or that is part of her life. I don't want her blindly doing something because she feels that she has to because an adult said so. So I told her... that sometimes there are adults who make bad choices and do bad things. Even adults we know and care about. I made it clear that no adult should ever ask her to take off her pants or underwear with them. We talked about what to do if an adult did something like that. That no matter what they say to her, she can always, always, always tell Mommy or Daddy about it. And again- the tightrope. How much do I say? I don't want to lead her, I don't want her to have "ammunition." But I want her to be prepared in case she is ever in a situation where a trusted adult is threatening her... I'm not trying to insult or insinuate anything about this man or this family- don't misunderstand. In all honesty, I would expect that any family should be cautious towards us, just as we have to be cautious towards others- no matter if they are family, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. All too often, the tragic stories include news coverage of the suspect being "the nicest guy you've ever met!" So I walk the tightrope. We got a call from school yesterday. Teagan (who came home early on Tuesday, went to the doctor- "raging" ear infection) was wiggly and complaining that her bottom hurt. At this age, it's still common to not wipe thoroughly and that leads to irritation, rash. Plus, she recently finished a 5 day course of antibiotics and now she's on a 10 day course of antibiotics. So it's also possible that she has the onset of a yeast infection (even though she is eating yogurt to combat yeast and we limit her sugar consumption when on antibiotics). Lori, the owner/director of the school, called me. Explained to me that Teagan had been wiggling, complaining of her bottom hurting, grabbing at her underwear. Explained to me that she sent Teagan to make sure she had cleaned her bottom well, even giving her a baby wipe. Lori offered- to Teagan- to check her bottom to see if there was any redness. Here's the cool part. Teagan turned her down. Knowing my daughter the way I do... I know that she was protecting her private parts. I feel like part of the message is coming through and I can keep building on it, working with her, teaching her to defend herself, to not be afraid of being aggressive for the sake of protecting herself, for valuing herself enough to continue to respect the privacy of her body. I'm still walking the tightrope. I'm still feeling my way through this topic- being extremely cautious and watchful and protective and coaching her and teaching her and guiding her and encouraging her. But I feel like I'm making my way forward and holding my balance. In conclusion, I want to share the Test of Twelve from Protecting the Gift. This is what I am working towards with my kids. Does your child know how to honor his feelings? If someone makes him uncomfortable, that's an important signal. Are you as the parent strong enough to hear about any experience your child has had, no matter how unpleasant? Does your child know it's okay to rebuff and defy adults? Does your child know it's okay to be assertive? Does your child know how to ask for assistance or help? Does your child know how to choose who to ask? For example, he should look for a woman to help him. Does your child know how to describe his peril? Does your child know it's okay to strike, even to injure, someone if he believes he is in danger, and that you'll support any action he takes as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid? Does your child know it's okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run? Does your child know that if someone ever tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, ''This is not my father''? Onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent. Does your child know that if someone says, ''Don't yell,'' the thing to do is yell? The corollary is if someone says, ''Don't tell,'' the thing to do is tell. Does your child know to fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone he doesn't know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade him? ***** I've got the knowledge and the goal. I just have to make sure I don't get in my own way, that I don't hold myself back. That I use my greatest strength- my instinct- and that I never ignore it or talk myself out of it. I think my tightrope is getting broader. Photobucket


Anonymous said...

Awesome post. While not a victim of any abuse, we have also taught our children, early, about their bodies and mistrusting adults who make bad decisions. Such a tightrope! From Teagan's reactions, sounds like you are pretty well balanced on that rope!

Valerie said...

This is something I dealt with too...I'm not going to mention who it was but it was family, close family...difference is my husband knows but my mother does not. I have a very hard time letting go of my girls. Miss Moon starts school in September, and she has a hard time standing up for herself, so its something I'm trying hard to explain to her, but I will not lie. I. Am. Terrfied. to send her off when she's not emotionally strong enough to stand up to her sister, let alone anyone else!

I will be getting that book for me to read, but I would really like to know if you have any children's books that you have found on the subject that you actually think are worth reading to an almost 4 year old.

I have come across a couple but they mostly focus on Stranger Danger, which is ridiculous to me, since most sexual abuse does not occur from strangers.

I'm not sure if you've gone into it with Teagan too, but mine started with just inappropriate touching through clothes, or too close for comfort touching/excessively long holding, forcing to sit on a lap thing. That's the part I'm having a tough time explaining. Since it rarely starts out with taking off the child's clothes.

Mary said...

Those of you who have survived childhood sexual abuse to be come amazing parents have my respect and my sincerest regrets for what you had to endure. My older sister and brothers were victims of serial sexual abuse, I was only spared because of adoption. I reconnected with them as an adult and when I see the aftershocks of that abuse in their lives I honestly feel that I could physically harm another human being.

I will have to check out the book, Liz. I have one that I bought my kids called "It's not the Stork" which teaches about male/female differences, in very simple terms about where babies come from, and there is also a chapter on touching. There is "Okay" touching such as getting a hug and kiss from your mom and dad, and there is "Not Okay" touching such as when another kid or an adult tries to get you to touch them or to touch your private parts. One thing this book mentions that I think is important is that other kids can also try to do "No Okay" touching and talks about how to respond and react.

Good post, thanks for bringing up what can be a very difficult subject.

Garret said...

Yes very good post. It's unfortunate that this conversation even has to exist.

Eternal Lizdom said...


We started out by using proper names for body parts. I will admit that it was kind of weird for me at first. But important.

Next, I added in language that these parts are private and only for the child. No one touches you there, no one asks to look at you there, no one asks you to look at them or touch them on their private parts. I'd do this anytime she was undressed and the subject came up. "Yes, that's your elbow. It helps your arm bend! Yes, those are your eyes. You can see with them! Yes, that's your v____. It's where pee comes out. It's your private body part and no one touches it or looks at it without Mommy or Daddy." That kind of thing.

Now, we talk about scenarios. That talk we had in the car after church... I asked her- what would you do if so-and-so's dad asked you to take off your pants? At first- she said she would take off her pants. I stayed calm about it and explained that a grown shouldn't ask her to take off her clothes. A grown up should touch her on her private parts on her clothes or under her clothes. That those are the kind of things that she says No to. And that no matter what that adult says, she comes and tells us. And I used the message that if someone says "Don't tell," that means you tell Mommy or Daddy as soon as you can, no matter what they say.

Use that Test of 12 as a guide and find ways to incorporate those lessons into your everyday language.

The books gives some awesome examples and tips- and not just about sexual predators. Also about what to do if separated from a parent. We teach our kids to look for a woman, especially a woman with kids (most likely a mom and least likely, statistically, to kidnap or hurt a lost child). We don't tell her to find a police officer or security guard- hard to determine those roles when your eyes at waist high. Also, security guards in malls are often perps- per the book. Oh- a woman is most likely to stay with the lost child until the actual reunion with the parent, too. Men tend to turn the child over to a store manager or something and walk away. All based on statistics.

One cool example given in the book- a mom would ask her 6 year old to go ask someone what time it is. The child would go and ask and report back. The mom would then ask- what made you pick that person? What about them felt safe? She was teaching her child to trust his instinct.

That's the main thing- we have to trust our own instincts about people and we have to not ignore that little voice in our heads and we have to teach our children to trust themselves, too.

Nancy C said...

Wow. This is a super-important post, Liz. I will check this book out for sure.

With my four-year old, we're teaching respect for adults, but I think that it's equally important to teach a healthy, unequivocal voice.

Mocha Dad said...

This is a serious issue that all parents and children need to be aware of. Abuser are so skilled at seducing their victims and gaining the trust. Only parents can combat this threat.

Anonymous said...

First, I am dreadfully sorry that you had to go through that as a child.

Second, I hate this world in which we have to worry so much, however, I have talked my daughter from the time she was 2 about this stuff and continue to do so.

It is sad that we have to, but absolutely necessary to equip them just as we help them with letters and colors and not walking out into the street.

And, is it just me, WHY did that 17 yr old girl go running in a park by herself? I don't care, I would never allow that. We just don't live in utopia - no one is safe no matter how much we want to say it is, it isn't.

I got sick to my stomach when she was found murdered and also took the time to explain what happened to my 10 yr old - easing up on the graphic details.

So sad.

Joy@TPMG said...

Wow. Liz-this was a powerful post. I hate that anyone has to go through something so tramatic and life changing. You are a very strong woman and thank you for sharing this post with us. I think it is important to have a dialogue with our children starting at a very young age.

C. Beth said...

GREAT post. Sounds like a book I really need to read. Thank you!

Amy said...

Great post. It's such a sad and sick world that we have to put this fear in our children. I feel I walk the tightrope too. I worry about how much is too much to tell my DD. I don't want to scare her, but want her to know that it is real and does happen. I am not trying to instil fear, but confidence and knowledge. I will have to check out this book.

Mrs4444 said...

This is a great post. I, too, was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I thank God that I've kept my kids protected (as far as I know) and empowered them. I guess it's never over, though, because when I think of Kendall (so innocent) going out into the world (high school parties some day, college, etc.) it scares the crap out of me.

YngJamz said...

Thanks for posting. I am currently in the middle of the book. I will use this book for my students as well as my children.