During the past few weeks, I have been part of a conversation on Social Media about the safety of children. Talking about CSA and trafficking of children. It still alarms me that so many children have no one to go to, to talk to in this harsh world that we live in today. Families are not what they once were, people move away, sometimes leaving family on their own. We don’t always have the ‘maiden aunt’ to confide in. Grandparents who used to always be there for our children, are now, I am happy to say, busy in their own lives and somewhat apart from family as we know it or knew it. During this discussion we touched on the ‘whys’ of abused children not telling until adulthood, if then. We looked at how telling the wrong person, as I did, can stop kids talking to anyone about what was happening to them. It was identified that our children often have trust issues and that today’s parents maybe need educating in gaining and keeping that trust, from the first day of parenthood. How to do that is still in discussion but always encouraging our little ones to come to us, with the tiniest of problems or fears could be a start. Never brush away something that they tell you. Always listen, always believe, re assure them that you will stop whatever is scaring or hurting them, then investigate and act.
The discussion began after it was said in an interview by an MP that ‘teaching our children road safety and safety in the home, as part of child’s education, is imperative but teaching body safety isn’t, because, ‘not all children suffer abuse’. An ignorant statement in my opinion. No it isn’t all children who are abused but not all children get involved in accidents at home or on the roads but we teach them the way to stay safe just in case, in both with no questions asked. The same should apply in body safety.
So the discussion was about the importance of teaching children body safety as part of the school curriculum. All children are vulnerable, every child could be abused, bullied, or hurt. Every child and any child could be at risk, it doesn’t matter who they are, what family they come from. We know from the news, that anyone could be harmed in some way as a child.
This blog is not to alarm people but to ask adults to be aware, that sometimes people you trust with the most precious lives, your children’s, might not be who you think they are. That is not to say don’t trust anyone, but knowing exactly who your child is with at all times and more importantly, teaching them to tell you anything that happens that makes them afraid, uncomfortable or scared is of utmost importance. If you are told by a child that someone has either hurt them or scared them, act on that please.
So how do we prepare our children to be safe? Well, there are many books out there, books teaching our children Body Awareness, Body Safety. For example; ‘My Body is Private’ by Linda Walvoord Girard. ‘It’s My Body’ by Lory Freeman and the Jane Evans series of picture books. A book, that can help parents know how to teach children body safety is Teaching Children to Protect Themselves’ by Freda Briggs. I am in favour of schools, following strict guidelines and after training, teaching all children about the safety aspects of being vulnerable. Teaching them that is it okay to tell someone if they are unhappy about an adults actions, whoever that person is. Adults they see at school, at home anywhere, to tell a responsible person, someone they can trust. But the most important thing here is to make sure the child has that responsible trust-worthy person to tell this to. If they can’t talk about these horrors at home they need an outlet in school.
A few years ago, I worked on a paper with a member of the Welsh Government about the need for counselling in schools. It had been decided that some children sadly, did not have the home life where they felt able to confide in a parent. In this recent discussion we talked about everyone needing to have a person they can confide their deepest fears to. Children need this even more. As children we don’t always know what is right or wrong. If the abuser is a family member, a parent, a caregiver who seems okay to everyone else, how can the child tell? Sometimes the abuse can have always been there as it was for me, that child’s ‘norm’. Sometimes a child may confide in a parent only to be told, that if what they said was true, it was their fault. Or the child might be punished and then ignored as I was. How then can they talk about these awful incidents? Who can they go to if not their parent or care giver? We came to the conclusion that School Counselling was, essential. We, now in Wales, have Counsellors in every school thankfully.
Although schools can play a part, in the teaching and keeping safe of our children, I also feel it would be good, to have somewhere, where new parents can learn to parent. A few years ago, I wrote a paper on ‘Children Bringing up Children’ that was widely acknowledged and commented on. I felt that he younger the parent, the less time they had had to have lived their own lives and learned about life issues. When a baby is born, we don’t get a manual! It is all hit and miss if we weren’t parented well ourselves. Mistakes will be made, all of us have made them. Young mums need all the support they can get and although those in our own families, might not take notice of us, being taught by professionals might help them. Some young parents make wonderful families if they have been parented well themselves. It isn’t that we, as the older generation are better, not at all, it is just that we have been here longer, learnt from our mistakes and can see when things go wrong.
So teaching our children body safety is essential. The trauma a child can suffer from abuse of any kind, stays with them. I have often been asked how I remember in detail every incident of my own CSA. It is simple. Trauma cements memories. Simple as that. Soldiers, airman and any person in the security services who has faced traumatic events, will have those imbedded in their minds. Some can deal with them and some can’t. The same for abuse victims. Some are able to move on and live normal lives, whatever normal is, some can’t. Why do people only come forward as adults? Children are fragile, some so traumatized from abuse that has always happened, that pushing the events far back in their minds, is the only way they can survive. They may have been scared, told that they won’t be believed or told it must have been their own fault. In my case I was told that I would be sent away to a place where these horrible things would happen all day and every day. After telling the woman who they called my ‘mother’, after her reaction, I told no one. As an adult, acknowledging the damage that has been done, or because they suffer a mental disorder such as PTSD, and seek help, they recover enough to tell their stories, as I did. I see this all the time in my work as Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist. Some clients, whilst telling me their history, move in their seat into a childlike position, becoming that traumatised little one again. Emotional heart wrenching work and I am privileged to be part of this recovery.
I am in the process of writing a new book and in that I will give some strategies on how to survive CSA and how, as adults, we can keep our children safe. If you have suffered abuse as a child, then please tell someone now. My dream is to have a world where abuse doesn’t happen but accept that it will never come true. So, we need to teach adults on how to earn the trust of their children and how to teach the children how to be safe. Everyone knows today how rife CSA was and is I am sorry to say. No one knows what happens to us as children except us and our abusers. Let’s try and stamp out as much as we can, by teaching body safety, so that abuse doesn’t happen in the first place. Teach adults, that if we are told we listen, believe and act. Even if we get it wrong and the child was not harmed, what do we lose? We may look silly or stupid but we will have done the right thing. Silly and stupid is better than our children continuing to be harmed in any way. Teaching the child body safety is a deterrent and may just prevent some cases of children who otherwise would be victims of CSA. All of this is useful but only if the parents or caregivers are not the abusers or complicit in the abuse, as mine was. I am hoping that one day soon, parents and adults who know that children are being harmed and do nothing, are prosecuted. If our children don’t feel safe enough to talk to those who should be there for them, or the parents are the abusers, teaching body safety in schools as part of the normal curriculum is vital.
Thank you for reading x