When in Doubt…. Trust Your Instincts
From the Mommy Desk….
When in Doubt…. Trust Your Instincts
Opening this weekend is the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, Doubt. As a good Catholic girl who attended twelve years of Catholic school in my plaid skirt, this play hits awfully close to home. Luckily, the issues raised in this play were never a part of my personal experience, but you would have to be living in a cave not to know that the Catholic Church has been plagued with allegations of sexual abuse.The play itself hinges around allegations made by a young and impressionable nun to the school’s principal, an older and rigidly conservative nun, that the popular and beloved Father Flynn has had improper sexual relations with the school’s first African-American student. Like any well-written piece, this play opens the door for conversation and debate. With no actual proof that Father Flynn is or is not innocent, the audience is left with its own doubt.
As a mother, and even more so now that I am a board member at the Children’s Advocacy Center, I am always hyper aware and suspicious of people around my children. I think all moms need to be. One out of four girls and one out of six boys will be sexually abused. The statistics are alarming. Almost always it is someone the child knows and trusts. It is up to the mother, to protect her children from harm. Here are some tips to prevent child sexual abuse and signs to look for if you suspect your child has been abused:
- Talk to your children! It is an uncomfortable and often frightening conversation to have, but very important that parents use age-appropriate measures to introduce their children to the concept of sexual abuse and teach them how to respond if the threat occurs. And do this on a regular basis. One “big talk” is not enough. Talk about “good touch, bad touch.” Explain that there are ‘good’ touches — like a hug, or a pat on the back, or a kiss on the cheek; there are ‘bad’ touches — like when somebody hits you or pushes you. And there are ‘secret’ touches — where somebody wants to touch you and they say you have to keep it a secret. Tell your children if anybody wants to give them a “secret” touch, they should say “no” — and tell Mommy or Daddy right away. You can also use the bathing suit analogy to help kids understand the “secret touch” areas. Also important is for children to understand what abuse is — and to know it’s never their fault.
- Listen to your children! Child advocacy experts advise parents to listen – be on the lookout for language and behavior that is “not normal” for your child.
- Look for Pattern is Behavior changes, especially around an individual. If you child becomes uncomfortable or upset every time they are around a specific person such as an uncle, stepfather or neighbor — or a specific event, such as soccer practice or a scout meeting, than you need to pay attention. Don’t jump to conclusions, but take it as a red flag warning and talk to your child.
- Know the Signs of Sexual Abuse. Every child is unique so not every child is going to respond to abuse in exactly the same way. However, there are some behaviors that have been commonly seen in children who are being sexually abused. Signs to look for include:
- Sexualized behavior. This is especially alarming in very young children. Are they touching themselves or other children inappropriately? Are they simulating sexual acts in their play? For example with dolls or stuffed animals? Do they talk about sexual acts?
- A sudden change in personality — from very quiet to very aggressive, or from very outgoing to very quiet and withdrawn.
- Sleeping disorders — such as sleeping much more than usual, or having difficulty sleeping.
- Fire setting — or having an obsession with fire. In very young children the fascination may be depicted in drawings of fire or in pictures that include a lot of red.
- Rapid onset of eating disorders — such as overeating or under-eating. This is especially common with teenage girls.
- Physical signs of sexual abuse — pain in the genital area, body bruises, cuts or abrasions that can’t be explained, unusual marks on the body, constant urination or difficulty urinating. If any of these are present, take your child to their pediatrician immediately.
- Disinterest in activities your child enjoys, such as a favorite sport or dance class, etc.
We don’t want to jump to conclusions or shelter our children from meeting new people or having a wide range of experiences, but by the same token we have to be super vigilant. Always know who your children are with and where they are. It’s too easy to be trusting or more often than not – polite. Women especially often don’t want to appear rude or impolite when someone we don’t know well asks our child over for a play-date or a teenager offers to take your child for ice cream. We need to listen to our inner gut, if something doesn’t feel right, it is better to offend that person than risk putting our child in danger. Again, when in Doubt… trust your instincts.
From one mom to another,
Jenny Wilson is a mother of three. She teaches a Mommy & Me class at Central Presbyterian Day School, serves on the PCT Board of Directors, the Parent Association Boards at Aikin Elementary and Paris Jr. High, and is a trustee on the Paris ISD School Board. She is also a Sunday school teacher at Holy Cross Episcopal Church. Ms. Wilson is a certified yoga instructor.