How to Talk to Kids about Abuse

OCRCC Articles

If you are concerned that your child has been exposed to inappropriate touching or child sexual abuse, you might wonder how to begin a conversation. With years of experience as both parent and educator, I’d like to offer some guidance on where to start with this difficult topic.

Start by talking about touches and who they like them from. I like to start the conversation by asking if I could give them a high five or a hug. I respect their response. I then talk about different types of touches so they understand that they may like some touches, but not others.

Do you like hugs? Holding hands? Tickles? Kisses?

Then talk about who they like certain touches from.

Do you like hugs from me? Your friend? Your teacher? Your brother or sister?

When do you like those touches?

This lets them know they can like different touches from different people and at different times.

Once this base of understanding is established, you can then talk about feelings around certain people.

How do you feel when you are around___________?

(If they are young and don’t have a large feelings vocabulary, try offering some examples such as happy, safe, worried, sad, and uncomfortable.)

Young children might not be able to relate detailed and chronological descriptions, but they will remember how experiences and interactions made them feel.

Has anyone has touched your body in a way that makes you feel hurt or sad?

Has anyone touched your body without asking first?

Kids might start listing all the times a kid at school or a sibling poked, pinched, or hit them. If you try to justify the actions, explain why it happened, or say it wasn’t a big deal, the child will learn that it is not safe to share with you. Listen to them and validate their feelings. They may be testing you with these stories to see how you will respond and if they can trust you enough to share a story about something that really hurt or scared them.

Has anyone touched the private parts of your body?

If they mention things like helping in the bathroom or getting dressed or at the doctor, explain that it is okay for some grownups to touch your private parts if they are helping to keep you safe and healthy. However, they should still ask first. If they don’t feel comfortable with some adults helping them, make a plan for what they can do to get help from a different adult – an adult they trust.

Has anyone told you to keep a secret that is making you feel worried/sad/scared?

A common tactic of offenders is to tell the child to keep it secret, with the explicit or implied threat of getting in trouble if they tell.

Your body belongs to you. If something that someone said or did is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it is not your fault.

You deserve to feel safe and I want to help you.

If the child talks about touches they don’t like, people that make them feel sad or uncomfortable, or instances of inappropriate touch, you can validate their feelings and let them know it is not their fault.

It is okay to like different touches from different people.

I can understand how that would make you feel that way.

You look worried or upset, can you tell me how it makes you feel to talk about this?

If someone didn’t ask you first, then it was not okay for them to touch your body at all.

If someone showed you their private parts or asked you to touch them, and you did, it is not your fault. They knew it was wrong and they should not have done that.

If at any point they disclose sexual touching or abuse, stay calm. If you demonstrate anger toward the person that did that, the child might also think you are mad at them, or that they did something wrong. They need your support and help.

Thank you for sharing with me.

I know it is hard/scary/confusing to talk about this and you are so brave.

It is not your fault, you have not done anything wrong.

No one should touch your body without your permission.

Then call DSS to make a report. And you can always call our 24-Hour Help Line for support, concerns, or questions. We can help you make a report if you’d like.

Even if your child does not disclose inappropriate touching, don’t stop the conversation. Revisit this with your young children on a regular basis. The best protection for children is prevention. Let your child know that their body belongs to them and you respect that. And always model asking before touching.

Every night before bed, I ask my growing son if he would like a hug or a kiss. Some days he says yes and some days he says no. In fact, he is 12 now and most days he says no. But every once in a while he says yes and squeezes me tight. I want him to know that I will respect his body autonomy and that I am always there if he needs a little extra physical and emotional support.

When I model this behavior for my child, I am hopeful that he will internalize the concept of consent before touching and be comfortable with asking, especially when he starts having intimate relationships. This is true prevention.

Alexis Kralic is our Education & Finance Coordinator. In addition to managing the agency’s finances and bookkeeping, she coordinates Safe Touch, our safety education program for preschool and elementary students.

If you want to learn more please join us at our next Stewards of Children training. Info below:

  • 24-Hour Help Line:

    • 866-WE-LISTEN (866-935-4783)
    • 919-967-7273 (Local)
    • 919-338-0746 (TTY)