How To: Talk to Young Kids About Sexual Assualt

Posted on Jun 13, 2016

How to talk to young kids about sexual assault


I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Malaika Dower on her podcast How to Get Away with Parenting and discussed how parents can talk to their children about sexual abuse. Click below to hear the interview and see the post below for expanded questions and answers


How and when do you talk about molestation?

  1. Start now! Whatever age your child is now is the time
  2. Identifying private parts as what is covered by your underwear
  3. ask if you can touch them and honor what your child says about their body
  4. Have a no secrets policy
  5. identifying friends and family your kids can talk to if something happens
  6. re-enforce what you are telling you kid with action

What that looks like in action?

  • Make identifying private parts a game- Is your arm a private part? – no. is your ear a private part? – No! Is your penis a private part? Yes!
  • Ask if you can touch them and honor what they say- “can Mommie have a kiss?” when they say “no” you say “ok. I understand you don’t want a kiss, thank you for telling me.”
  • Enforcing no secrets- “what happened at school today?” “I can’t tell you” “you know you can tell Appa anything, we don’t have secrets and share with each other”
  • Identifying support network for your child- “if someone scares you talk to Daddy, Papi, Uncle José and Luis.”
  • Backing up talk with action- if Auntie asks for a kiss and your kid says no and Auntie grabs your kid and won’t let them go until she gets a kiss, you need to talk to that family member and your child. Depending on the person in the moment that might sound like “Put them down, they don’t want to be kissed” or in private tell the relative, “We are teaching Keisha body boundaries so when she says no, listen to her or maybe settle for a hug or high five.” This also includes making sure your child is listening to others. If you see your child not respecting other people’s bodies call them on it. Reinforce “we don’t touch people when they say no, just like other people can’t touch us when we say no, right?”


What are the signs you should look for?

Imitation of sexual acts. Note when your child is trying to touch the genitals of others in a non-curious/knowledgeable way, putting their mouth on others, “tickling” and it being genitally focused.

Any complaints about pain, or if you see major irritation or tearing. You should get comfortable checking your child’s genitals and this can happen during bathing or diaper changing.  If there is a strong response against checking genitals. Speak calmly and take breaks. Talk your child through what you are doing. “I know you are upset right now but Mimi is going to check your anus to make sure you are ok”

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How can you be clear with kids about body parts that are theirs?
Use the right terms for body parts. If Little Reggie says someone touched their cookie, you might not know that they are talking about a private part.

Include genitals when your child is learning their body part

  • “where’s your leg, where’s your arm, where’s your penis?”
  • when cleaning in the bathtub say what you are cleaning. You can make a little bathtub song, “clean your leg, Nevaeh clean your leg. Clean your thigh, Nevaeh clean your thigh, clean your vulva Nevaeh clean your vulva”
  • when your child is pointing to your body parts and asks you want it is. just say it. “That is Nona’s breast”


How do I talk about this when I’m not comfortable saying sexual words or talking about sexual topics?
My first suggestion would be to explore your discomfort. this can be with a partner or a sex therapist. If you have sexual trauma in your own history child rearing is a good time to try to work through that as you will ultimately be triggered at some point. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states sex is a basic need along with food, shelter and clothing. Consider that sexuality is natural and normal and if you feel it is dirty or bad you will ultimately pass those negative perceptions onto your child.


How do you respond if it does happen?

First and foremost BELIEVE THEM! this cannot be understated. It is highly traumatic to have experience something such as sexual abuse and to have that disregarded by a care taker. Ask questions, ask for details, make sure you have as clear of a picture of what happened before you decide to dismiss the report. Also, if you do feel like what is reported did not happen then see how you can clarify appropriate and inappropriate touch if your child is confused. Remember you are the first stop for learning about inappropriate touch so helping your child being clear can also be important.
As a therapist I’m biased but I would also say start play therapy immediately. There will undoubtedly be a lot of feelings your child does not understand and may not be able to process on their own. Play therapy can help as early as 3. Also consider family therapy or couple’s therapy for you and your partner(s). This is a family trauma you don’t have to go at this alone and a therapist can help manage the trauma everyone is facing.



Is it my fault? NO! The sole responsibility lies with the person who made the decision to cross a line with your child. We like to think we can control the world for our children but ultimately we cannot. As scary as that is we can try to provide as many preventative steps as we can but the fault lies with the perpetrator.causes of rape


What happens if you need to press charges? Listen to your child and go at their pace. You are your child’s advocate and the intermediary between your kid and the police so it is important to be aware of your child’s disposition and limits. You can also find advocates that can help you along with the process


What happens if it is a relative? A sibling? Again if a child says something happened with a relative believe them first and start to investigate. Trust your gut! Does this person make you uncomfortable? Are their family secrets that involve this person? Are other people making complaints? Pressing charges is an option and chances are it will create difficulty within the family. Be prepared for that by finding support from within and outside of the family. Also, know that at the very least keeping this person away from your child is the ideal situation. Don’t allow this person to be alone with your child or to intimidate them with odd looks, uncomfortable stares or rude remarks.

If one of your children is being sexually inappropriate with another an investigation is in order! where did they learn that? Is someone doing the same thing to them? Be firm with what is and is not ok but also open to talking with your child to find out where the behavior is coming from. There is a difference between childhood sex play and assault. Kids are curious not asexual. Click this link to find out more about what childhood sex play is.



Feel like you would like some extra guidance? Check out these books you can read with your kids that help you tackle this topic: