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 how to talk to your child about abuse and violence

Before beginning a conversation with your child:

  • Do not victim-blame

  • Do not use scare tactics or long lectures

  • Use active listening skills, (eye contact, undivided attention, talk less, really listen) to your child as much as you are talking; listen to their comments, questions, answers, and pay attention to body language

  • Use proper terms for body parts

  • Do not blame your child or their friends for past mistakes

  • Accept vague answers, not press for details, and not force him/her to accept your opinion or point of view

  • Provide your child with accurate and age-appropriate information

  • Bring up issues of all types of abuse including sexual abuse and incest; the younger a child is the more concrete they are and therefore, they need specific examples of each type of abuse.


Several of the steps below do not require that you mention the words "sex" or "sexual abuse." Your morals and values will affect what you say to your child about sexual relationships, but regardless of your values, you need to give your child information about protecting him/herself from sexual abuse.

  1. Make sure your child knows that you will not blame him/her for the actions of others. The primary reason that children give for not telling their parents about abuse is that they are afraid their parents will blame them for the abuse. Try not to use statements like, "If you leave your bike in the front yard, and it gets stolen, it's your fault." Children need to know that they are responsible for their actions, but not the actions of others, even if they think they did not practice perfect prevention. If your child hears or sees others being victim-blaming, let your child know that you do not blame victims of any type of crime or abuse.

  2. Make sure your child knows that abuse is something that you can, and want, to talk about. Often children do not tell their parents about being abused because they think their parents will be hurt or embarrassed by the topic, or will think the abuse is not a serious problem. Take every opportunity you can find to let your child know that you can talk about body parts, sexuality, sexual abuse, violence, bullies, and harassment. If you and your child see or hear harassing or abusive things on TV, in music, in advertising, or from other people, talk about it together.


   3. Make sure older children understand the definition of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Often children think that only rape is      sexual abuse, and that it can only be sexual abuse if the offender is a stranger or an adult male.


   4. Make sure your child knows that you believe he/she has the right to make choices about his/her life and his/her body. Find     opportunities for your children to make decisions about their lives and bodies. Depending upon your child’s age, you might let him/her decide if you may accompany them into the doctor’s examining room, or help them with a bath. You can use examples of children trying to talk playmates into games or sports that might be scary to other children. Also, use examples of children and adults wanting to give a child a hug or a kiss when the child does not want the touch.


    5. Provide a definition of consent, and explain that consent can only be given when the person feels that they could have said  "yes" or "no" freely. Talk about power and force. Force does not have to be physical or violent. Discuss types of power that an adult, teacher, coach, police officer, larger person, employer, bully, or popular person might have. Let the child know that verbal pressure does not have to be something that sounds bad -- it could be something good that the child wants, like a toy or candy.

Provide your child with basic information about self-protection:

  • Their bodies belong to them and they can say "no" to any type of unwanted touching. Remember that it is often difficult for a child to use an assertive “no,” and that they are not responsible for the abuse if they did not say “no.”

  • There are different types of touching, and children should trust their instincts. It is often not the touch that makes the situation an assault, but rather the way the touch is done. Hugs, kisses, pats, stroking can be both acceptable and unacceptable touches.

  • If anything confusing, uncomfortable, or frightening happens, the child should talk it over with a trusted adult. Children should know that they should always talk to a trusted adult about any touching to the private parts of the body. Adults should be the ones who decide if what a doctor, nurse, coach, friend, relative, or another child did is right or wrong.

  • Children will often tell a similar-aged friend about abuse before telling an adult. Children need to know that it is OK to talk to peers about problems, but if the problems involve sexual abuse, a trusted adult should always be told. Make sure that your child knows that if another child shares anything about sexual abuse with him/her, they should tell a trusted adult even if the other child does not want them to. 

  • Children should know that they do not have to be touched for an incident to be sexual abuse. Sexual abuse includes words, having others show a child their body, pictures or videos. 

  • Provide your child with a list of trusted adults that he/she can go to for help or advice. Often, older children and teens will not come to their parents for help; they should know that there are other adults who can help them.

  • Select adults with whom you and your child feel comfortable, and ones that you think will know how to handle a problem: clergy person, youth leaders, relatives, family friends, school personnel, friends' parents.

  • Talk with your child about sex role stereotypes. Begin the conversation with a discussion of a movie, book, TV show, or advertisement showing sex role stereotypes. Let your child know that he/she should not base relationships on these stereotypes. Stress that they should not allow stereotypes to force them into relationships that make them feel uncomfortable.

  • Even if your children say they know all about sexuality and sexual abuse, or roll their eyes and pretend not to listen, it is important that you keep bringing up the subject. It is not necessary to have a discussion each time you approach the subject. Each time you try to initiate a conversation, you are reminding your child that you are available to discuss these issues.

(Adapted from DayOneRI)


The following suggestions may help parents and teachers initiate conversations about abuse with young children ages. 

  • How to define sexual abuse. Please do not use the words "sexual abuse" or "sexual assault" in our preschool programs. A story of a bully taking another child's toy is used to explain that no one has the right to use their age or size to hurt another person. From the discussion of a bully, it is easy to begin to talk about someone using their age or size to touch the child's body. You can begin with an example of the younger child being hit or pushed. Let your child know that you are there to help them whenever someone makes their body feel unsafe. Also, let the child know that they always have the right to tell someone to stop touching or hitting them.

  • All children should know the correct terms for their body parts. If a child has a problem with one of the private parts of their body -- breast, buttocks, penis, testes, vulva, or vagina, using the proper name will make it easier for adults to understand their problem. Parents should always call all body parts by their correct name. 

  • Children should be taught that some parts of their body are private. The parts of the body covered by a bathing suit are not usually shared with other people. Let children know that they should talk to a trusted adult about any touching to the private parts of their bodies.

  • Listen to what your children are saying and take them seriously. If you are not sure what your child means, ask him/her to tell you more. Young children are often not sure if they have a problem. They are afraid that if they tell you something and it is not a problem, you will think they are immature. Therefore, they often drop hints or ask "what if" questions to test out your responses. 

  • Never tell your children that they must or should participate in personal interactions with others. Always ask your children if they would like to give someone a kiss or hug. If your child says "no," accept the "no" and suggest a wave or smile as a greeting or good-bye. Children need to know that you really do believe that they have the right to decide who they touch and who touches them. 

  • Make sure that any prevention or intervention strategies that you give your children are age and developmentally appropriate. Children have a hard time saying “no” to older people. Let them know that they can say “no,” but that you understand it might be difficult or might not work. Also, young children usually do not have the ability to leave a situation that is making them feel uncomfortable. Children can easily be confused about the appropriateness of a touch.

(Adapted from DayOneRI)

Talking to Your Adolescent about Sexual Abuse 

  1. Situations: Teens are exploited, taken advantage of, and sexually abused in everyday situations such as: dating, at friends' houses, partying, breaking rules, going to school and job hunting. They can be taken advantage of and trapped because of: 

  • fear of getting into trouble

  • lack of information about sexuality 

  • their own needs, along with outside pressure, to enter the world of love and romance

  • the sheer number of new people in their lives

  • trust of others and willingness to think they have misunderstood another’s intention

  • The belief that if they are good, good things will happen to them; if bad things happen, they must have deserved them.

  1. Types of Force: Teens may well have heard that sexual abuse is a violent, rather than a sexual crime. But teens are more likely to encounter sexual abuse in situations of sexual bargaining than in interactions that appear to them to be violent. They are most likely to encounter verbal or peer pressure, rather than violent physical force. The force used might also be blackmail, a bribe, or they might be made to feel that the abuse is their fault.

  2. Who are the Victims: Unfortunately, it is estimated that 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience a sexual assault before the age of 18. This is true for all races and socio-economic groups. The most difficult thing about sexual abuse for teens to understand is that it could happen to them or someone they know. Teens feel safe by staying away from "strangers" and are convinced that they are safe with people they know and trust, particularly their peers. 

  3. Who are the Offenders: Although most offenders of adolescent sexual assaults are male, women also commit some assaults. Adolescents are also offenders. Someone the victim knows and trusts commits nearly all of the reported assaults. Common offenders are a friend, a date, a neighbor, a cousin, an uncle, an older brother of a friend, or another student. They may be successful, charming, and well liked. 

  4. Initiate discussions: Adolescents are more likely to participate in a discussion if they are being asked about their ideas and opinions, rather than being told what to think or do. Parents can share experiences that they have had -- anything from hearing a sexually harassing joke or seeing abusive advertising to being victimized as a child or adolescent. A discussion, not a lecture, of a news event will often help adolescents discuss the topic. 

  5. Remember not to be victim-blaming and to listen as much as you speak. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so, and tell them you will find the answer. You can always call Jamaica Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-800-598-7607 and we can help answer your questions, and those of your child.

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