As I said last week, my plan for today was to share some of the board books for babies we have been loving, but I changed course after I read this post from Janet Lansbury - "A Child Molester in My Circle." Reading her account of the horror of discovering a person known and trusted by her family had confessed to molesting children reminded me that I've been meaning to share a book with you that I think is one of the best out there to help families have the difficult but important discussions we need to have about sexual abuse.
As most families do, we've talked with our girls through the years about private spaces and established some general boundaries about who can see them and who cannot, when it is okay for someone besides themselves to touch them there, and what to do if anyone tries to touch a private space. I thought we had covered our bases pretty well, but the recent revelation from beloved friends about the sexual abuse they endured as children stirred up a new urgency within me to do some research.
I felt in my bones we could have a better conversation about it, I just didn't know where to start.
I thumbed through some books at the library and read a lot of reviews of books on Amazon, and finally settled on I Said No! A kid-to-kid guide for keeping your private parts private. I knew from the description that it was a collaboration between the author and her son following an experience he had a friend's sleepover party.
When the book arrived, I read it cover-to-cover and was chilled to my core about the details of what her son had experienced: at a sleepover in the home of his best friend right next door, the author's son was accosted by his friend who tried to bribe, threaten, and bully him into engaging in activities that were far beyond the realm of natural curiosity. Zack, the son, tried to do what his mother had taught him to do in these situations but he was ignored by both his friend's mother and older sister. Finally, he locked himself in the bathroom where he spent the night alone and scared.
I am in tears just thinking about it.
But Zack and his mother Kimberly have taken that terrible trauma and turned it into a book that I believe is a brilliant resource for all families. In it, they explore what private parts are and what some appropriate rules are about those parts of their bodies.
The part I appreciated so much about this book was how it gives concrete language to feelings that kids might not know how to express. The book very clearly talks about people and situations that make them feel "upset, uncomfortable, lonely, sad, angry, scared, yucky, in danger!" and gives them a term to describe those feelings: RED FLAGS.
Kimberly and Zack also explain what a bribe is and what a threat is and how if someone tries to bribe you or threaten you into doing something that involves your privates (or theirs), that is a red flag. It follows up with specific words and actions to use when they encounter a red flag person or situation.
Finally, they briefly cover what to do if the red flag person is someone who you are supposed to be able to trust to take care of you - a heartbreaking reality that all children should be made aware of.
I'll be honest - this book sat on our kitchen counter for a week before I shared it with my girls. I thought it was wonderfully and powerfully executed, but it made my stomach hurt to think of talking through these things with them. Finally, both of them kept asking and asking about the book (the illustrations are quite engaging!), and so one evening before bed, the three of us sat down to read it.
They are eight and six and they handled the discussion amazingly well. The book is a fantastic jumping off point for parents to personalize the conversation for their own childrens' needs and circumstances. For example, in the discussion about green flag people and situations, I specified very clearly the very short list of people for whom it is okay for privates to be seen or touched if absolutely needed. We spent a long time talking about examples of bribes beyond the ones given in the book. I made up other "tell me what you would do" scenarios to give them each of them a chance to practice problem solving and strategy if they found themselves in a red flag situation.
The hardest part of our conversation was talking about how sometimes, even if they do everything they have been taught to do - even if they do everything right - they may still be touched or treated in a way that is a big red flag. Oh, it was so hard to keep from crying as we talked about that, but I didn't want to upset them. I stressed over and over again (as I have for years) that Mommy and Daddy are ALWAYS safe people and they can tell us ANYTHING. I've even told them if they feel like they cannot tell us for any reason at all, they can call my sister (they know how to find her number on my phone).
Isn't it sickening to have to talk about this?
But it is so, so necessary. And that's why I am so thankful to have found I Said No! I truly believe it handles the topic in a way that is approachable, friendly, and empowering.
I would love to hear from others how they have handled this conversation with the children in their lives, as I strongly believe this is not a one-time sit-down discussion, but one to have early and often with our precious little ones!