April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of possible child abuse and neglect. It is also an opportunity to learn more about teaching personal safety and boundaries to the children in our circle. Each of us play a vital role in protecting the youth both in our homes and our community.
Within our behavioral health division, our therapists see daily that childhood abuse has long lasting implications for mental, emotional and physical health. Exposure to abuse shapes the way we interact with the world.
One of the most important protective factors against child abuse is having a safe adult to confide in. Children who know that there is an adult in their life who will be there for them in good times and bad times will be less vulnerable to boundary violations and more likely to tell when someone’s behaviors make them feel uncomfortable.
There are many ways to be a safe adult for children:
Teach, maintain and model protective boundaries- when families follow and enforce clear rules such as: respecting other’s possessions, no hitting, letting an adult know where you are and no touching private parts – children are more likely to share when boundaries are violated.
Strengthen the bonds- when we listen to children, show interest in their opinions and consider their perspective when making decisions – children learn that adults value and care about what they have to say.
Talk about difficult subjects, including abuse – age-appropriate conversations about our bodies, sex and boundaries help children understand what healthy behavior looks like and that they have the right to say “no” to things that feel uncomfortable. These conversations can be challenging for adults and below is just one link to many online tools and tips to help guide us.
And remember you don’t need to be a parent to be a safe adult. Teachers, coaches, mentors, extended family members and family friends all can play roles in modeling safety to children. I encourage to consider this month what role you would like play.