A Brief Guide for Parents
As a parent we all have an important role in our child’s overall development. Handling sexuality is an essential and unavoidable part in growing up of children. It keeps our children safe from physical and emotional harm. Parents therefore, must provide proper guidance and knowledge to their children to become safe and happy adults. Though parents also understand their responsibility to keep their children safe from any physical and emotional harm, they are generally reluctant to talk on the subject with their children due to following reasons:
- For most parents, the topic of sex was not discussed by their elders when they were growing up so they feel shy and are uncomfortable talking about reproductive body parts and their functions.
- They are not sure what exactly and how much their children need to know. They are unsure about how to adapt the information to fit their child’s cognitive level.
- A very common belief is that children with developmental disabilities are not required to learn about sex because they will not mature. The fact however, is that all children are sexual beings and will continue to develop socially and sexually throughout their lives. Children, whose parents have explained all aspects of sexuality to them, are better prepared to protect themselves from abuse.
- They fear that talking about sexuality will encourage their children to experiment and may even develop extra interest in sex in them.
What PARENTS need to do:
- Provide correct information because children gather most of their information about sex from friends. They also learn from TV and listening to the conversation between adults.
- Raise the topic and talk with your child initially while giving a bath. Some children will never ask anything about sex, on their own.
- Be prepared before starting the topic and answer their questions and doubts honestly.
- Explain how a male body is different than a female body. How our bodies grow and change with time. What developments take place while growing?
- Good and bad touch. Proper and improper words.
- Specific functioning of female bodies to girls must be explained including menstruation and reproductive process.
- Talk about our feelings and behaviours and how they play an important role in being healthy.
- Tell your children all that they want to know in a simple language which they can understand.
- Tell them clearly about do’s and don’ts, relationships and your family values.
About Puberty :
Irrespective of intellectual or physical challenges, generally between the ages of 9 & 15 children begin puberty. During this period they experience lot of changes physically as well as emotionally. There is generally rapid body growth, Change in voice for boys, hair growth in body parts, emotional ups and downs and increased sexual drive etc. They get confused about what is happening to them. Children with disabilities may develop later or earlier due to their disability or medical condition.
As a parent you need to be prepared so that you can guide your child. Physical changes are often the first signs that your child is starting puberty and for your child it can be emotionally upsetting. Preparing your child for these changes and helping him or her to cope with the changes e.g., hygiene, is essential.
Menses or periods
- Explain about menstruation before her periods begin and that bleeding is a normal process of growing and during the periods she can continue with normal activities, about period cycle, irregular periods etc. If she is capable, tell her to note it in a calendar or diary to keep track of her cycle. This will help to plan for the next one
- Provide her sanitary pads and explain her how to use it by demonstrating on a doll or personally. Discuss the importance of hygiene and cleanliness. How to changing pads regularly. Keep a pack in an accessible place.
- Some girls experience cramps that can be quite painful. This can be eased by using a hot water bottle or with medicines. Take your family doctor’s advice if pain is persistent.
- Think about clothing choices (don’t wear white pants when your period is due)
- Discuss that having your period is a private event that should be discussed with a caregiver. Other family members or friends do not need to know
- Understand that touching and rubbing of genitals for pleasure is a normal, natural behaviour but should never be done in presence of any one or at a public place.
- Allow your children to explore and touch their body. Bath time can be a suitable time for this.
- If your child is masturbating in presence of any one then it must be explained to them that though it is OK to masturbate but that it is a private activity and must not be done at a public place or in presence of any one. Don’t be impatient; it may take some time to change this behavior.
Wet dream is when semen is ejaculated from the penis during sleep. Assure the child that it is normal and that it may happen to some boys but not to everyone and there is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. Explain to him that he should change clothing and bed sheet if it happens.
It is normal our children to become sexually active during adolescence and children with disabilities are no exception to this fact.
- Keep an eye on the friends your child is seeing and whether or not he/she is involved with someone.
- Tell your child to say a FIRM NO to anyone who makes sexual advances and that NO means NO.
- Share your family’s values about relationships and sex.
- Explain about the dangers of unprotected sex and to prevent pregnancy different types of birth control methods may be necessary if your child becomes sexually active. If this can be done by the parent it is good or else it may be done by your family doctor. Also explain effects of different medications.
- Though it will be best to avoid it but if it becomes absolutely necessary, taking an Emergency contraception pill will be better than becoming pregnant which will create more complications
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
- Your child should know that it is possible to get STI through sexual contact
- Tell to your child about using condoms every time they indulge in sex.
Child Sex Abuse (CSA)
Child Sex Abuse is a reality and we can teach our children some basic safety rules for their protection. These rules are simple, easy to learn and even a four year old can learn to protect himself / herself effectively.
Most parents do not talk to their children about sex abuse. They are uncomfortable about talking about sex and feel unable to handle questions that will be asked by kids.
This talk with children is about SAFETY, not about SEX ! The way you teach kids to cross road, handle fire or work with knives; you can teach kids to be safe from UNSAFE TOUCH. It really is simple as you will know from the following discussion.
Myths about Child Sex Abuse (CSA)
There are a lot of misconceptions around this issue. Following is a collection of some:
Myth 1 : CSA is a rare thing
Truth : about 15-20% adults report receiving some form of sex abuse as kids. This abuse ranges from inappropriate and repeated touching to penetrative sex. Abuse almost always starts with inappropriate talk and touch before progressing to worse things.
Myth 2 : CSA only happens in western countries
Truth : Scientific research has proved that CSA is prevalent in all cultures, languages, countries and religions. There are no countries where CSA is not reported. There are differences in legal age for consensual sex in various countries but CSA as defined by local law is found EVERYWHERE!
Myth 3 : In India, CSA happens only in slums
Truth : Though children from lower socio-economic class are more vulnerable to CSA, it is by no means exclusive to that group. Kids from all levels of society are affected.
Myth 4 : CSA happens only with girls
Truth : Till age of 12, boys and girls are equally affected. After adolescence girls are more affected than boys.
Myth 5 : CSA happens with kids of troubled and broken families.
Truth : Though kids in troubled families are more likely to be abused, they are not the only ones. Kids from stable families are abused too ! Having an intact and untroubled family helps children to recover better from abuse but it does not protect them if they are not armed with the knowledge of UNSAFE TOUCH.
Myth 6 : Abusers are social misfits and easily identifiable
Truth : almost all abusers look just like you and me. There is no definite way of identifying an abuser from looks alone. Many abusers are family men with children and respectable professions like doctors, priests, teachers, etc.
Myth 7 : Abusers are always strangers to the kids
Truth : This is one of the most dangerous myth. 70% of abusers are directly related to the child. They are family members. Another 20% are well known to the family and have free access to kids, e.g. family friends, teachers, neighbours, etc.
Now that you know about the extent of CSA, lets take the next step to safeguard kids:
educate them about UNSAFE TOUCH
Whose job is it?
Any parent or teacher can do the job well. Women are often seen as more trustworthy by kids so a mother or a female relative / teacher can do the job well. If father participates in the session, authenticity increases a lot and kids like involving whole family. This improves their sense of confidence and safety.
Age of kids :
You can educate kids as young as 4 years !
There are only 2 parts of the talk –
Part 1 :
There are three areas of body that are “no touch” areas- chest/breast, bottom / buttocks / bums and area between legs. You must tell kids that nobody is allowed to touch them in these three areas.
Part 2 :
NO – GO – TELL a person who is a Safe Person. Please watch the video for details.
You will note that there is no mention of abuse/sex at all. We only talk about safe and unsafe touch. Children of all ages understand this language very well.
IF you are not parent of the kids participating in the session, then you must help the child identify a ” safe adult” and clearly communicate with the adult in front of the kid. Tell that adult that he/she is identified safe person by the child and it the child received inappropriate touch, the child will let the safe adult as soon as possible.
It is important to conduct this conversation in front of the child as it completes the loop of communication and safeguards the child.
Most Important Part : Repeat this talk with kids every six months as booster effect makes it very effective like vaccines.
It must also be explained that some-times it would be “necessary” to look at or touch a child’s private parts. These times may be while changing diaper, during giving bath, if they are sick or hurt or by a doctor in presence of one of the parent.
Some kids will ask difficult questions. Few of them with answers are-
- Why do I need to know this? Answer – to help you stay safe from harmful people.
- What if other kids touch me in those three areas? Answer – other kids of your age and playmates can touch you while playing on the ground and is usually okay. If any kid touches you there again and again then let me know.
- Any other question that you are uncomfortable to answer, you can safely tell the child that you cannot answer that question straight away, but will give the answer when the child is a bit older. Children understand this age barrier very well as they are told all the time about things they cannot do till a specific age e.g. – driving, marrying, buying a house, getting a job, etc.
Older children are often trapped by abusers by using blackmail. They are often shown/given sexually explicit material and later blackmailed into sex. This can be effectively prevented by having a trusting and reasonable relationship with your adolescent. If your kids are sure that you are a sensible person and will not give harsh punishment/dressing down for mistakes, they will confide in you and cannot be blackmailed.