Giving your child the words

>> Wednesday, 14 November 2012

I am not qualified to write this post.

And yet, as the mother of two sons that I want to keep confident, safe, and above all happy, who is better qualified?

I visited the UK with Boy #1 last weekend.  We had a helter-skelter trip, rushing here there and everywhere, with very few moments of calm apart from some time in a hire car whilst I drove the two of us to visit friends a couple of hours out of London.

We listened to the radio, and unless you are living in splendid isolation with no connection to media of any kind, you will not be surprised to learn that in amongst the music, the news updates on every single station were mainly concerned with the recent unearthing of Jimmy Saville's activities.

This is current news - this is dreadful, awful, stomach churning, disgraceful and current news - so why shouldn't it be reported, even on Radio One?

I can't write here, or indeed anywhere, of the horror I feel on behalf of the children who suffered at the hands of those who exploited them, other than to say that I hope their stories - and their bravery in coming forward to face their persecutors - are not lost in the maelstrom of accusation and counter-accusation on how the stories have been reported.

Instead, this post is about is how I dealt with a question from the back seat of the car as we drove around the M25 on Saturday morning.

"What's 'child abuse', Mum?"

Surely a question that you hope never to hear from your child.  And yet, almost above all other questions, the one that deserves to be answered.  And answered in such a way that your child is left with a clear understanding of the boundaries, what constitutes crossing them, how it is never - NEVER - OK for that to happen, and what to do if it does.

So rather than ducking the question, changing the subject, switching the channel, we spoke about it.

I told Boy #1 that child abuse is when a grown-up treats a child in a way in which they should never be treated.  Once we had got past his obvious rejoinder of  "What, you mean when a grown-up bosses a child about and tells them what to do?" I explained how it meant an invasion of personal space (I was slightly more explicit than that but I'm not going to go into detail here since - as I've mentioned before - there are some unpleasant people out there who's google searches I do not want The Potty Diaries to appear on), that being told to invade other people's personal space could be just as bad, and that should either of those things happen - or even be hinted at - he must tell his father or I immediately.

We spoke about it in a no-nonsense, matter of fact, non-gratuitous and calm way.  There were no hysterics, no embarrassed silences.  Boy #1 took the information on board, filed it away, and we moved on to talking about something else.

Since that time, I have also spoken to Boy #2 in the same way, and watched him similarly file the information away and move seamlessly on to which piece was missing from the lego kit in front of him on the kitchen table.

Do I wish we had never had to have those conversations?  Of course.  Am I sorry that we did?  Absolutely not.  I don't feel that the information I have given them has compromised my sons' innocence or their future memories of childhood simply by the fact of their possessing it.  On the contrary; I feel I have helped both boys to protect those very things.  I strongly believe that those who prey on children rely on those same children's parents never having had this conversation with them, and indeed that they rely on both parents and children not having the ability - the words - to do so.  I also believe that a happy, confident child who is fully aware of what is Not OK - and that they can talk to their parents about it should they encounter such a thing - is less likely to fall prey to predators.

There is no fail-safe system, I know that.  I can't wrap my children up in bubble-wrap and protect them, much as I may want to.  But I can give them the tools to manage in today's world.  I can give them the words.

BritMums - Leading the Conversation


manycoloured-days 14 November 2012 at 20:00  

I'm sharing this on facebook, that's what I meant to say.

London City (Mum) 14 November 2012 at 21:29  

Had much of a similar conversation with my three. Never pleasant but they took the information on board, asked some very pertinent questions, and then moved on to whose turn it was on the computer to play Club Penguin.

The innocence of the young, but at least informed.


jeanie 15 November 2012 at 06:18  

Sometimes I feel that the media are exploiting the salaciousness of such news themselves - and while they will warn you about an explicit lyric coming up, it appears there is no requirement to warn about upcoming news bulletins being shocking.

Giving children knowledge is the best thing - it is a pity that the timing and need is determined by others.

Anonymous,  15 November 2012 at 08:25  

Urgh, I worry so much that I won't be able to protect my 21 month daughter. What has the world come to when I'm worried about that before she's even 2?!

I think you are right though children need to know you will listen to and believe them. P is still either with me or her dad however I will be talking to her about this in the nearish future.

ScootergirlUK (sorry about the anon post)

kateonthinice 15 November 2012 at 16:19  

Powerful post and thank you for linking up to BritMums on this issue.
I agree that you have to ensure your children feel safe coming to you when they feel threatened in any way.
My challenge in the days, weeks and years ahead will be about equipping my children to deal with the fact that their half-sisters were abused as children.
Good post which will do good too.

Sandy Calico 17 November 2012 at 08:11  

Bit late getting here, sorry. Great post. My children are only 5 and 4 and I have tried to speak to them about this subject, but it's hard. I hate that there are bad people in this world and I hate having to tell my innocent children about them. Having said that, they do need to understand boundaries and what to do if someone tries to cross them.

Ann Cordner 17 November 2012 at 12:00  

I worry about all those children that don't have such loving parents. They are so vulnerable. God love them.

DGMommy Tamara 21 November 2012 at 14:32  

Good post. I've ducked the issue with my girls, simply singing loudly while I turn down the radio so they miss those stories. There's another one on now with a whole group involved. It's horrible to think...

Thank you for sharing how you handled it. We've only had this type of talk at doctors check-ups, but you've inspired me to grasp some courage and have an overdue, real-world (though age appropriate) conversation with my daughters.

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