Child Abuse Prevention Month: 5 Practical Tips

Anytime I hear about instances of child abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, I feel sick, enraged, and helpless. It makes me want to wrap my kids up in bubbles or never let them leave the house. I am also hyper-aware of the issue because my mother spent the majority of her adult life spreading awareness about child abuse through programs like First Steps and Healthy Families Georgia. Her determination to prevent child abuse one family at a time naturally inspired me from a young age.

When our kids were preschoolers, we began talking to them about these issues. There is so much information out there about child abuse prevention, so I just wanted to share the most practical yet powerful things I’ve learned throughout the years:

“Come give grandma some sugar!”

My daughter was recently at a casting call for a commercial where one of the scenes involved another actor picking her up. When asked if that were okay, she respectfully replied no, and they simply improvised. Since she came into the world, my husband and I vowed to never force her to give out physical affection if it made her uncomfortable. You will have family who will be seriously offended if your child doesn’t give them a hug or kiss goodbye. Too bad! If my daughter didn’t want someone to hold her as a baby, they didn’t get to (you can ask my family). As a toddler, if she didn’t want to hug or kiss someone, she didn’t have to. I would ask her if she wanted to give them a high five instead.

I got a lot of comments like, “she’s going to be too shy” or “she needs to get used to other people.” Now she is the most outgoing 6-year-old in the world. She is also confident, makes her own decisions, and has no problem telling you when something makes her the least bit uncomfortable. The most important thing is our children know they have control over what they do with their bodies and that they have the confidence to say no, especially when you’re not there to watch over them. Notice I didn’t mention my son? It’s a non-issue because he would still be curled up in my uterus if given the choice.

Be the Bad Guy

My kids are at the age where parents don’t always stay at birthday parties, and kids their age are having sleepovers. In complete honesty, there are only a handful of people I trust unconditionally to be alone with my kids. For this reason, I have no problem being the helicopter parent when it comes to social events. If your child gets invited to a sleepover, and you’re not 100% comfortable with the friend or their family, you may have to be the bad guy and say no. You may have to suffer through a tantrum, but that’s better than your child suffering through the worst case scenario.

Have an Escape Plan

If your kids are spending the night away from home or going to parties alone, have a plan in advance if they feel unsafe. If your child doesn’t have a cell phone, let them borrow one, or buy a pay-as-you-go phone just for those occasions. Discuss possible scenarios with your kids and come up with a plan to keep them safe until you can pick them up. I have heard several stories of kids locking themselves in bathrooms or another safe place until their parents could get to them. I know how scary a conversation like that sounds, but I promise you will be more at peace knowing your child is prepared.

Ask the Important Questions

Don’t ask, “Did you have fun?” or “Did you behave?” Instead ask, “Did you feel safe?” or “Did anything make you feel uncomfortable?” The right question can go a long way and open up communication.

Give them the Benefit of the Doubt

Remember statistics teach us most abuse happens from someone they know. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to hear that your child was hurt by a family member or other trusted loved one, but at the end of the day, your child comes first. I would never want them to be afraid to tell me they were hurt no matter how difficult it might be to hear.

Finally, don’t forget you have been trusting your instincts as their parent since the moment a nurse put your son or daughter into your arms. Remember that feeling of complete panic before leaving the hospital? Why in the world are these doctors letting me leave with this precious and vulnerable little one? Ever since that moment, you’ve been figuring it out one day at a time and going with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to step in! 

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Even though I hail from a small town in South Georgia, I have always been a city girl at heart. Atlanta, specifically Gwinnett County, finally feels like my true home. I have been married to my high school sweetheart for thirteen years, and we have two kids in elementary school. I may be in my mid-thirties (yikes!), but I still feel around twenty-three in my mind (and probably always will). I love my job as a liability defense attorney, and my absolute favorite things in life are spending time with family and friends, live music, reading, writing, bourbon, and traveling. When our kids graduate high school, my husband and I plan to sell all of our worldly possessions and see how long we can live in Ireland before they kick us out!