One Key to Prevent Childhood Abuse
By Katie MacDougall, LPC
Ashamed, I avoided eye contact with the teacher and pretended to not pay attention. It was easier to pretend I wasn’t listening than to acknowledge the truth.
I did not want to admit that I couldn’t read as well as my other classmates. I felt behind and stupid. Each time I had to read aloud, my face felt hot and my palms began to sweat. How would I ever be able to read?
Everything changed when one teacher took the time to really help me. She began using a different curriculum and I immediately started to get the hang of reading. She believed I could read, equipped me to do so, and told me I was doing a good job. That teacher’s empowerment made all the difference to my first-grade self.
Children need to feel empowered in order to succeed. Honestly, as an adult, I still need to feel empowered in order to succeed. I need to know I can (or, more importantly, God can) when I get discouraged or I feel overwhelmed.
As a first grader, not knowing how to read felt impossible and humiliating. For any child, witnessing or experiencing abuse is that much more impossible and humiliating. Yet the key to child abuse prevention is very similar to teaching a child to read. They key to prevent childhood abuse is empowerment.
Empower children with vocabulary.
Weewee, dinky, pee-pee are all made-up words commonly used by parents to describe their children’s private parts.
These silly words are also known as euphemisms. According to Oxford dictionary, a euphemism is “a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.” These silly private parts euphemisms accomplish the definition of a euphemism. Weewee, dinky, and pee-pee all communicate that proper words for genitalia are too harsh or blunt. Moreover, these words communicate that parts God made are unpleasant or embarrassing.
As Christians, we should celebrate these parts and how special they are to God. They are parts of our bodies that should be treated with modesty and care, but they are not parts of our bodies that should be deemed unpleasant or embarrassing.
In addition to communicating that these parts are worthy of shame, using these euphemisms leave children vulnerable to abuse. Children that know the proper names for genitalia are empowered to communicate to all safe adults when something is wrong with those parts. This is essential for medical purposes, but also for abuse prevention. When a child is empowered to know the proper name and use for their special body parts, they can inform safe adults when something or someone is doing something wrong with those body parts.
The pushback I generally get from parents about using proper names for genitalia is regarding the parent’s discomfort. Whether you’re afraid your child will teach other children those words, you don’t like saying those words yourself, or you just don’t like thinking about your child growing up, please consider your child’s safety more than your own shame.
If you’re still hesitant about this practice and would like more information, one of my absolute favorite websites for parents and professionals is www.birds-bees.com. They have great social media posts as well.
If you want an example of this practice done well, check out my favorite children’s book regarding this subject, “God Made All Of Me” by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb.
So go ahead and say “penis” and “vagina.” Your child will thank you.
Empower children with choices.
Everyone wants choices. I don’t want to be told where to eat, what to wear, or how to drive. I am much more receptive to direction when I receive choices. For children, they want choices too. Moms of toddlers know better than anyone how important choices are, “Would you like to brush your teeth and then have a bedtime story or have a bedtime story first?”
Things just go smoother when children (and adults) have choices.
Regarding childhood abuse, choices are important too. We need to be able to give children choices regarding who touches their bodies and how their bodies are touched. A good way to give children choices in this area is to inform children that they never have to receive a hug from someone else. Practice asking your child, “Can I have a hug?” instead of expecting them to give you and every other adult a hug. Informing children of their right to a choice will help prevent them from receiving touch that they do not want.
Empowerment is a key to abuse prevention.
If you have reason to believe that a child under 18 has been abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused or neglected, you are required by law to make a report. The Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline is available 24 hours for reports: 1-800-522-3511. If you are reading this from another state, please contact your state’s Child Protective Services for how to file a report in your state.