Every mother’s biggest fear is that something – or someone – will hurt their child. With April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, now is the time to review the basics of child abuse prevention to ensure every child has a happy and healthy life.
Recognizing Child Abuse
It’s not always easy to tell when a child is being abused. As children get older and their social circles expand, it’s imperative that parents are able to recognize both physical and behavioral indicators of abuse.
Signs that a child is being abused include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Fear of a certain adult
- Difficulty trusting others or making friends
- Sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Inappropriate sexual behavior
- Poor personal hygiene
Neglect is one of the most common forms of child abuse—it is defined as the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide needed food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and mental/emotional support. It can lead to long-term effects, which increases the likelihood of the child engaging in high-risk behaviors like substance abuse.
Identifying Abusive Adults
One of the most upsetting realities of child abuse is that 93% of juvenile victims know their abuser. Because of this fact, it’s critical that mothers are able to identify red flag behaviors of the adults in their children’s lives.
Many child abusers use grooming techniques on both the child and their family in order to hide the abuse. These techniques are also used to gain the trust of the child, the child’s family, and in many cases of institutional sexual abuse, gain the trust of entire communities.
Grooming behaviors can include:
- Paying special attention to a specific, often vulnerable, child
- “Innocent” touching, like hugs or wrestling, that escalates to sexual contact
- Sharing sexually explicit jokes or material with a child
- Treating the child like a co-conspirator in a relationship
These kinds of predators frequently go unnoticed due to the fact they tend to camouflage themselves as trusted members of the community. They will involve themselves in activities where they can have access to children. Cases of sexual abuse through institutions such as the Boy Scouts, youth church groups, and sports have demonstrated the lengths predators will go to build the trust of parents and communities.
Communicating With Your Child
While it can be difficult to discuss the subject of abuse with your child, appropriate and healthy communication is critical in preventing child abuse.
Teaching your child the correct names for their body parts and establishing boundaries surrounding your child’s body from an early age enables your child to speak up when those boundaries are crossed or they feel uncomfortable.
Create supportive dialogue:
Trusting your child when they come to you with secrets or feelings about other people is also an important way to establish open, trustworthy communication patterns with your child. If they feel dismissed, judged, or shamed, they will be less likely to come forward with uncomfortable topics in the future.
For many mothers, even thinking about child abuse and the consequences it can have on their child’s development is too much to bear. However, through education and open communication, moms can take an active role in abuse prevention during Child Abuse Prevention Month and the rest of the year.