With the knowledge that child abuse is a factor in later emotional and psychological problems, keeping our children safe from abuse is a top priority.
Here are some tips.
- Be cautious about who is allowed access to your children. Statistically, family members and partners of the parent are more likely to harm children than strangers.
- Take care with choosing baby-sitters. Better to pay someone with training and references than to take risks with someone even slightly ‘dodgy’ or a sitter who is too young with immature impulse control.
- Stay sober and drug-free around your children so you can be alert to protect them, and keep your children away from people who are drunk or stoned.
- Be alert for any signs that your child might have been abused: physical signs, age-inappropriate behaviour and knowledge, and emotional distress.
- Set firm boundaries around the behaviour of other people around your children: pornography, bad language, lewd behaviour etc.
- Establish regular opportunities where the child can debrief and talk to you about anything.
- Take seriously anything a child might say about an adult doing something to them.
It is horrible to think our children are being abused, but it can also be horrible to think that the abuser is a family member or someone we love. That freezes some parents into inaction and the abuse continues. A real cause of life-long pain for some victims is that they did seek help but they weren’t believed or protected. Our priority has to be our child’s safety. Their life-long mental health and happiness may be at stake. Get advice from your doctor or mental health professional to help you do the right thing. Bring on board a trusted friend to support you. Yes: there may be terrible pain as a result of what you have to do – family trouble, relationship break-ups and legal consequences – but realise this:
- You did not cause this trouble, the abuser did.
- Your loyalty to your children has to be greater than even your loyalty to your partner or family.
- The consequences of not acting will be worse than any trouble your actions stir up.
These are hard things. Let two things be your guide: love, and doing the right thing. Those two compass needles usually point the same way and, when they do, you can be pretty confident that your actions will result in the best outcomes.
If you suspect your child has been abused, do get them some help. Again, your doctor can advise you. Gentle, sensitive counselling can greatly reduce the harm that abuse causes.
Finally, don’t let this blog make you depressed or sour! The world is full of lovely, safe men and women who are on side with you and your children. Yes, we need to be vigilant and wise, but your children will be far better off with interactions with other good adults.