By Mirella Alexis
April is child abuse prevention and sexual assault awareness month. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the shelter in place policy being issued all over the world, it is imperative that we keep children safe and in the forefront of our minds. All forms of abuse take place behind closed doors: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. Through research, it is known that abuse exacerbates in isolation, and at a time where job loss, stress, and uncertainty are at an all time high, it is important that we arm ourselves with the tools to better serve children who are in harm's way.
1.) Talk with Children
Open communication with children is key to preventing any and all forms of abuse. Preventing abuse starts with you. As a caring adult, you have a responsibility to protect the children around you, not just your own or those you care for. It begins by building a healthy and loving foundation of respect and open communication with children as soon as possible. Parents and caregivers should talk to children about sexuality and safety at a developmentally-appropriate level, including healthy boundaries and the correct name for body parts and consent. Make sure to keep the discussion on-going as the child ages.
2.) Keep A Schedule & House Rules
Children can thrive when they have a schedule and some sort of normalcy. It brings children comfort when they know what to expect and have some sort of structure in such a chaotic time filled with uncertainty. Both adults and children should have to adhere to any schedule put into place, not just the children. By doing this, everyone has the responsibility and knowledge of what to expect. It also lets children know that their time is respected and valued equally to the adults. Set household safety rules in place such as: one person allowed in the bathroom at a time, no “secrets” allowed in the house, and limited screen time for children, especially unsupervised.
3.) Keep an eye on their devices
Abuse can happen anywhere, including in-person, over the phone, or online. Online safety rules are important now more than ever before. For example, if your child plays video games, sends text messages, or uses social media apps, they are more susceptible to sexual content and predators. Therefore, make sure to have the security settings set to the highest level, and device notifications are on at all times. Also, be media literate. Pay attention to the images and messages in music, TV, online and in movies and about gender and violence. Talk about what you see, what you don't like, and what you do like in each portrayal.
4.) Empower children
Take this time to teach and empower children to better care for themselves. Children who know accurate information about healthy sexual development are better protected from sexual abuse. Knowing the correct terms, age-appropriate behaviors, having a positive body image and self-confidence, and caring adult-child communication also discourages perpetrators. Let children know they have a voice and that they will be heard, but more importantly, believed in their time of need.
5.) Take Care of Yourself
As a caring adult in children's lives, we must care for ourselves to better care for others. We should be making sure that we are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, connecting with friends, and asking for help when we need it. By being the example for children, we are showing them not only do we care about ourselves, but we care about them too.
By implementing these tools, adults and children will be better prepared for staying safe at home and going back to face the world when the time comes.