11 Common Parenting Mistakes Every Parent Makes But Will Never Admit
By Lauren Steele
Sometimes it hard to feel like you’re doing a “good job” as a father. Actually, it’s easier to feel like you’re not. According to the latest research from the Pew Research Center’s Parenting in America study, only 39 percent of dads feel like they’re doing a good job raising their children. So what are the mistakes you’re making and how can you correct them to feel more confident as a dad and improve your relationship with your kids? We found some of the most common mistakes dads admit making — and offer some ways to right the wrongs.
1. Being Overprotective It’s hard not to want to protect your kids, but 54 percent of dads say they have a tendency to be overprotective. According to Dr. Nathan Lents, a professor at John Jay College in New York, depriving children “of healthy forms of safe stress may leave them unable to deal with stress as adults.” Lents has compiled research showing that safe, controlled amounts of acute stress may actually be good for us, especially as children. So take off propeller off your head and resist the urge to helicopter your kid.
2. Giving Your Kids a Mile When They Need an Inch On the other hand, it’s possible to give your kids too much freedom. One-third of fathers admit to giving their kids too much freedom — which can be just as problematic as being overprotective. “Kids need parents to restrict their freedom, to narrow their choices and to put pressure on them to meet their obligations,” Dr. Linda Spadin, psychologist and success coach, says. “Kids may not appreciate all this restraint. But they need it.” Instead of giving your young ones a choice, give them options.
3. Letting Yourself Be a Sucker for Your Kids Always giving your child what they want doesn’t set them up for the realities of life. Instead, it simply sets them up to be expectant little brats. But 35 percent of dads admit that they give in too quickly to their children’s demands. Indulging the “gimmes” and the “I wants” zaps your resources and your child’s ability to appreciate things they have. Instead of letting kids focus on what they want, focus on what they need.
4. Being Too Tough Exactly half of dads admit to playing the hard-ass and “sticking to their guns” too much. “Simply saying ‘no’ or barking orders about what kids should be doing can be expedient in the moment,” Amy McCready, the founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com, told Parents in an interview. “However, it doesn’t foster their sense of capability or independence and can make the situation ripe for power struggles.” Instead of always saying no, give your child incentives to do what you wish them to do.
5. Being Critical of Your Children Forty-nine percent of dads admit to criticizing their children too often. Your children care about what you think, whether they show it or not. In order for your children to be successful, they have to be motivated to do it for themselves, not to avoid your consequences. According to C.R. Smith, author of Learning Disabilities, all children benefit from adults building extrinsic motivators into their teaching to ultimately help kids develop the inner desire to do well. Acknowledge your children’s efforts and progress so they’ll feel more motivated.
6. Playing the Nice Guy Believe it or not, it’s possible to give your children too much praise. One-quarter of dads feel like they praise their children too much. This can give your children unrealistic expectations from future relationships and keep them from developing a healthy relationship with criticism. But to ensure your criticism helps them, focus on criticizing the process your child uses, instead of the person your child is. In one study by Columbia University researchers, children were subjected to role-play critiques and then their feelings of self-worth were assessed. Children given persona; criticism rated themselves lower in self-worth, had a more negative mood, were less persistent, and were more likely to view this one instance as a reflection of their character. Children given process criticism had much more positive ratings in every category. The takeaway: Allow your criticism to build character and self-worth.
7. Letting Your Finances Affect Your Family According to Pew Research Center studies, there is a strong correlation between parents’ perceived financial well-being and their personal assessments of how they’re doing raising their children. Some 56 percent of parents who describe their household financial situation as comfortable say they are doing a very good job as a parent. Parents who say they live comfortably and within their means consistently give themselves higher ratings than parents who feel pressed financially. Twenty-one percent of fathers who have trouble meeting their expenses say they are doing only a fair or poor job as a parent. Avoid the financial stress by creating a monthly budget and sticking to it.
8. Keeping Stagnant Expectations for Family Dynamics Pew’s survey found that parents who only have children under age 6 are more likely to say that parenting is enjoyable and rewarding than parents with older children. Six-in-ten parents whose oldest (or only) child is younger than six say being a parent is rewarding all of the time—as opposed to 50 percent of those whose oldest child is 13 to 17 agreeing. Realize that your role as a parent is as dynamic as your children’s growth. Be prepared to allow your role as a father to evolve from nurturing caretaker to teacher to limit-setter as your child gets older. That way, your expectations for parenting match your child’s needs.
9. Feeling Rushed Most parents today say that they feel rushed at least some of the time. In fact, 31 percent say they always feel rushed, even to do the things they have to do. Additionally, 53 percent say they sometimes feel rushed. But even with all of the to-dos, chores, and responsibilities, the most important thing you can accomplish for your child is giving them time to learn and grow. Dr. Laura Markham has found that rushing yourself—and your kids—can negatively impact brain development, increase stress hormones, overstimulate them, habituate them into a too-busy life, and create a chronic feeling of incompleteness. So remember sometimes that it’s okay to add to the to-do list and just chill.
10. Not Spending Enough Time with the Kiddos Only 50 percent of fathers say they spend the right amount of time with their kids—but spending quality time with children is the first vital step to successful parenting, according to multiple studies. Adolescents who believe they matter to their families are less likely to threaten or engage in violence against family members, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Issues, led by Brown University sociologist Gregory Elliott. They are also more likely to feel more self-worth and feel more successful. Schedule in time with your kids just like you would schedule a meeting or an event. It’s that important.
11. Not Using Parenting Resources Fewer than one-in-ten (7 percent) of fathers say they often turn to parenting websites, books, or magazines for advice on how to raise their children. But with a vast network and bottomless amount of research and information at your hands, why not use it? According to a study published in the journal BMC Family Practice parents who use online information and support report several benefits, including: the possibility to reach out to a wider audience, increasing access to organizations without an increase in costs, the ability to remain anonymous in their contacts with professionals, and the need for information can be effectively met around the clock.
Thoughts for Parents
Kids act out to get help and are frightened that they will leave home without what they need to deal with the issues in life.
The “old” values turn out to be good values: Children and teens need chores and responsibilities, and consequences when they do not do them. This is a critical lesson parents need to teach their children so that they can be successful in life
Let children know they make decisions all the time, and that they can make different decisions, and that all decisions have consequences
Ask children to help with the concern or issue and let yourself be surprised at the positive reaction – but you have to be sincere
The unconscious cannot resist repetition - any behavior repeated daily for 3 weeks becomes a habit – this is a way to change bad habits
With a kid who is shut-down, stop talking and get physically active
Everybody makes mistakes – we are here to learn – that means we need to make mistakes
Kids will experiment – they are supposed to (remember your own childhood)
Don’t rescue or protect kids – they need to learn that they can do it on their own – that builds confidence and strength
Teens want to be heard so parents need to listen. They don't have to agree but they do have to listen
* Source: Ilene Dillon, MSW et al
13 things parents who raise mentally strong kids refuse to do
Amy Morin, Oct 8, 2017
Raising a mentally strong kid doesn't mean he won't cry when he's sad or that he won't fail sometimes. Mental strength doesn't make you immune to hardship and it's not about suppressing your emotions.
In fact, it's quite the opposite. Mental strength is what helps kids bounce back from setbacks and it gives them the strength to keep going, even when they're plagued with self-doubt. A strong mental muscle is the key to helping kids reach their greatest potential in life.
But raising a mentally strong kid requires parents to avoid the common — yet unhealthy — parenting practices that rob kids of mental strength. In my book, "13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do,” I identify 13 things to avoid if you want to raise a mentally strong kid who is equipped to tackle life's toughest challenges.
1. Condoning a victim mentality
Striking out at the baseball game or failing a science test doesn't make a child a victim. Rejection, failure, and unfairness are a part of life.
Refuse to attend your kids' pity parties. Teach them that no matter how tough or unjust their circumstances, they can always take positive action.
2. Parenting out of guilt
Giving into guilty feelings teaches your child that guilt is intolerable. And kids who think guilt is horrible won't be able to say no to someone who says, "Be a friend and let me copy your paper," or, "If you loved me, you'd do this for me."
Show your kids that even though you feel guilty sometimes — and all good parents do — you're not going to allow your uncomfortable emotions to get in the way of making wise decisions.
3. Making their kids the center of the universe
If you make your entire life revolve around your kids, they'll grow up thinking everyone should cater to them. And self-absorbed, entitled adults aren't likely to get very far in life.
Teach your kids to focus on what they have to offer the world, rather than what they can gain from it.
4. Allowing fear to dictate their choices
Although keeping your kids inside a protective bubble will spare you a lot of anxiety — playing it too safe teaches your child that fear must be avoided at all times.
Show your kids that the best way to conquer fear is to face those fears head-on and you'll raise courageous kids who are willing to step outside their comfort zones.
5. Giving their kids p0wer over them
Letting kids dictate what the family is going to eat for dinner or where the family is going on vacation gives kids more power than they are developmentally ready to handle. Treating kids like an equal — or the boss — actually robs them of mental strength.
Give your kids an opportunity to practice taking orders, listening to things they don't want to hear, and doing things they don't want to do. Let your kids make simple choices while maintaining a clear family hierarchy.
6. Expecting perfection
Expecting your kids to perform well is healthy. But expecting them to be perfect will backfire. Teach your kids that it's OK to fail and it's OK not to be great at everything they do.
Kids who strive to become the best version of themselves, rather than the best at everything they do, won't make their self-worth dependent upon how they measure up to others.
7. Letting their kids avoid responsibility
Letting kids skip out on chores or avoid getting an after-school job can be tempting. After all, you likely want your kids to have a carefree childhood.
But, kids who perform age-appropriate duties aren't overburdened. Instead, they're gaining the mental strength they need to become responsible citizens.
8. Shielding their kids from pain
Hurt feelings, sadness, and anxiety are part of life. And letting kids experience those painful feelings gives them opportunities to practice tolerating discomfort.
Provide your kids with the guidance and support they need to deal with pain so they can gain confidence in their ability to handle life's inevitable hardships.
9. Feeling responsible for their kids’ emotions
Cheering your kids up when they're sad and calming them down when they're upset means you take responsibility for regulating their emotions. Kids need to gain emotional competence so they can learn to manage their own feelings.
Proactively teach your child healthy ways to cope with their emotions so they don't depend on others to do it for them.
10 Preventing their kids from making mistakes
Correcting your kids' math homework, double checking to make sure they've packed their lunch, and constantly reminding them to do their chores won't do them any favors. Natural consequences can be some of life's greatest teachers.
Let your kids mess up sometimes and show them how to learn from their mistakes so they can grow wiser and become stronger.
11. Confusing discipline with punishment
Punishment involves making kids suffer for their wrongdoing. Discipline, however, is about teaching them how to do better in the future.
Raising a child who fears "getting in trouble" isn't the same as raising a child who wants to make good choices. Use consequences that help your kids develop the self-discipline they need to make better choices.
12. aking shortcuts to avoid discomfort
Although giving in to a whining child or doing your kids' chores for them will make your life a little easier right now, those shortcuts instill unhealthy habits in your kids.
Role model delayed gratification and show your kids that you can resist tempting shortcuts. You'll teach them that they're strong enough to persevere and even when they want to give up.
13. Losing sight of their values
Many parents aren't instilling the values they hold dear in their children. Instead, they're so wrapped up in the day-to-day chaos of life that they forget to look at the bigger picture.
Make sure your priorities accurately reflect the things you value most in life and you'll give your children the strength to live a meaningful life.
Amy Morin is the author of “13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do” and regularly writes about parenting issues on Inc.com.?
Top 15 Things Your Middle School Kid Wishes You Knew
1. Respect me. I'm my own person, not just your kid. Sometimes I might have opinions that differ from yours. Sometimes I just want to be your baby. Respect me either way.
2. I still want to have fun with you, and feel like home is safe and happy. Smile at me.
3. I need to make some of my own choices, and maybe some of my own mistakes. Don't do my work for me or get me out of every jam. You don't need to be better than me at everything. Don't condescend; you don't need to impart your elderly wisdom on me if I have a problem. Please wait for me to ask for your help. If I don't ask for it, I might want to work it out for myself. Let me rant without offering advice. Sometimes that's all I really need, just to talk my way through something and for you to just listen to me.
4. Sometimes I'm going to be moody and annoyed and frustrated. You need to just let that happen (though you shouldn't let me be rude to you; that's weird and embarrassing). It might just be a mood or something might be going on that I'm not ready to talk about yet. If you hang around doing stuff near me and don't interrupt or try to solve it as soon as I start, I might feel comfortable talking with you about things.
5. Trust that I'll do my work. If I don't, you can help me manage my time, but wait until I'm not taking care of responsibilities to think I can't. Don't just assume I can't handle responsibility because of my age. Believe in me.
6. It feels really good when you ask me to teach you about what I'm learning or what I'm good at. You don't have to be awesome at computer programming to let me teach you some cool stuff, for instance. I have to be a beginner constantly. Show me it's OK to stay relaxed and present when you are struggling to learn something.
7. I don't like the drama either, and it surprises me as much as it does you. You think it's rough having this alien lunatic in your house? Try having it in your body, and you can't even get away.
8. If you don't like my friends, it feels like you don't trust my judgment or like I am stupid about choosing friends. Or both. Ask me what I like about them, or what we have fun doing together, or just to tell you about a new friend. Stay open-minded. Still, if you think my friends are being bad to me, I need you on my side that much more.
9. Sometimes I am completely overwhelmed and need to zone out for a while. I am not becoming a slug and will not stay in my room staring at a screen for the rest of my life. Maybe just for the rest of the afternoon.
10. I will fight you every step of the way if you make me do stuff I don't want to do (get some exercise, do my homework, write a thank-you note, practice piano, apologize to my sister, take a shower, wear deodorant... so many things), but you should probably make me do them anyway. I know I will feel better if I sweat and shower each day, and develop my study skills, and show up tomorrow prepared, and, and, and. I know! But please don't overwhelm me. I might not be able to do what I should right away. I might need reminders, later, which will annoy me completely. Remind me anyway.
11. Explain why I'm being criticized or punished. It feels scary if I don't understand anything beyond that you are mad at me. And sometimes what I need more than a scolding is a hug or a cuddle. Especially when I am more porcupine than puppy.
12. I need to have private jokes with my friends and not explain them to you. It's how we bond. You don't need to be involved in every aspect of my life to still be loved and needed by me.
13. If my social life gets to be too much, I may need you to force a little vacation from it on me. But most of time what I need is to work through how to navigate life online and with peers. Now is my chance to learn how to deal, with your help. Just shutting it down keeps me from learning how to build my life online with scaffolding provided by you. Stay calm and cool, let me explain what's going on, and talk things through with me. Ask more, tell less.
14. Especially if I've been feeling stressed, maybe you could just hang out with me. Go to the park or get an ice cream or have a catch, whatever; it feels good to just do something together without discussing or solving or teaching anything.
15. I like it when you think I'm funny. Or interesting. Or awesome. I actually do care what you think about me. Please find something specific you actually like about me because sometimes I can't find anything in myself to like at all. I might roll my eyes, but your words and judgments do matter to me, and I will remember them, the good and the bad. I will keep them with me like treasures even when I lose my keys and wallet and ID. Which I probably will. More than once. Sorry. And bonus extra important thing you should know: The fact that my opinions on this and anything else might change tomorrow does not mean I don't feel them fiercely today. Keep up. I love you. Remind me you still love me, too.
5 Apps That Should Terrify Every Parent
According To Experts If you see these on your teen’s phone, it’s time for a talk.
The internet can be a cesspool of danger for some teenagers, says Sedgrid Lewis, an internet safety expert who blogs under the moniker Spy Parent. Some of the apps that teens favor can expose them to predators and encourage them to engage in unsafe behaviors.
According to the child safety website PureSight, one in five teenagers has received an unwanted sexual solicitation online, and 75 percent of teens share personal information online. In almost all underage sexual predator cases, teens went willingly to meet with the predator.
Which apps do parents of teens most need to be aware of? Here are a few that Lewis and others have flagged:
1. Yubo (formerly Yellow)
Yubo has been called “Tinder for kids,” and is marketed to 13- to 17-year-olds as a way to make new friends. But it also allows young kids “to pretend to be adults and swipe left or right to hook up,” Lewis said. Yubo has more than 15 million users worldwide, despite vocal concerns about allowing children to use it.
The police department in Lenexa, Kansas, issued a warning last summer about the app, noting that “it embodies one of the most dangerous aspects of social media: It allows teens the ability to easily meet people (strangers) outside their parent’s sphere of knowledge or control and ... matching [them] with another person geographically near them, facilitating face-to-face meetings.”
The app changed its name in December from Yellow to Yubo and did some rebranding, but Lewis said the developers may have changed the name “in order to circumvent the accountability.”
Yubo’s creators put in some effort to improve awareness and education on using the app safely, Wayne Denner, an online reputation specialist, wrote on his website Digital Ninja. Since rebranding in December, Yubo added technology to detect fake profile pictures; hired a child online safety consultant; required that users have a mobile number to register, which is recorded and verified; and added an abuse reporting feature to inform the company of inappropriate activity.
But Denner noted there is still no age verification when you create an account. That means that the door is still open for adult sexual predators who lie about their age and create fake profiles to lure children. Fake profiles on all social media platforms remain a huge problem.
Sarahah is an “honesty” app that allows users to send anonymous direct messages to their friends through other apps such Snapchat. It was designed to provide positive encouragement in the workplace, but turned into what Lewis called “the No. 1 cyberbullying app.”
The app was so controversial that it was removed from Apple and Google stores on Feb. 21 because of complaints. A Change.org petition that called for the app’s removal was organized by the mother of a girl who was encouraged to take her own life by a Sarahah user; it garnered 470,000 signatures. But the fact that Sarahah was booted off app stores doesn’t mean that it was taken off anyone’s phone. It just means that people can no longer buy it, which should significantly limit its future spread.
Sarahah was at one point the most popular free download in multiple Apple and Google Play markets around the world, beating out even Facebook, Snapchat, and Netflix. It was introduced in late 2016 by Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq as a website intended for employees to give anonymous, honest feedback to their employers. After some success in Arabic-speaking countries, Tawfiq rolled out an English version that caught on rapidly with teens worldwide ? and may still be on their phones.
Reddit apps that easily enable kids to access inappropriate material should be monitored by parents, said Lewis. Anyone with the official Reddit app can go to the popular subreddit “Reddit Gone Wild” and find a ton of NSFW images and even straight-up porn. Users ? including underage ones ? must click a button saying they’re 18 years old in order to access it, but there’s no verification. And Reddit rules don’t prohibit nude selfies from appearing, as long as they are voluntarily posted by the selfie-taker.
In addition to labeling the app as for ages 18 and up, there are warnings on the Apple Store download page that mention sexual content, nudity and “frequent/intense mature/suggestive themes.” It’s hard to tell if that stops anyone or just makes it that much more tantalizing to lie about your age to use the app.
Lewis said there is nothing to stop a minor from clicking that button saying they are 18 ? except maybe a parent.
Vora is a fasting app that teens with eating disorders are using and abusing. The app blew up at the end of 2017, when “water fasting” — a diet in which followers consume nothing but water, against medical advice ? became a fad. Vice reports water fasters logged their fasts using Vora, sharing their results on Instagram.
While intermittent fasting may have some health benefits, those living with an eating disorder are using the app to celebrate and promote anorexia, said Lewis. They created a community within the app, sharing usernames on “pro-ana” forums to motivate and encourage each other to fast for longer.
Vora isn’t the only health and fitness app being abused. On pro-ana forums, people with eating disorders regularly swap information about their favorite apps, including MyFitnessPal, Eating Thin, Toilet Tracker, CalorieKing, Plant Nanny, Chronometer, and Carrot Fit (an app that encourages weight loss by hurling abuse at users and electrocuting an obese avatar when diet goals aren’t met).
Omegle is a live-streaming video and chat app that exists solely so that strangers can talk to one another. Yes, strangers. It also has a website that can be accessed on a mobile device and is a platform that parents should have on their radar, said Denner. It’s been around since 2008, and remains “not so well-known amongst adults,” he said, but is popular with teens and preteens.
Here’s the app’s description on the Omegle website: “Omegle (oh·meg·ull) is a great way to meet new friends. When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. To help you stay safe, chats are anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time. Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.”
Most parents will go on high alert over that last sentence. And should, said Denner.
“The Right way for Parents to Question Their Teenagers”
By Jennifer Breheny Wallace Published in the WSJ
“Based on a study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, Ashley Ebbert of Arizona State University and her co-authors, found that when a teen views parents as disengaged t can lead to a breakdown of trust and communications and have a negative impact on teens’ mental health.”
“The researchers found that teens who reported feeling increasing alienation and decreasing trust with their moths, in particular wen t on to have higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Its critical for parents to find a way to push past some of the walls that adolescents put up in order to maintain open communications and feelings of trust and support, while still respecting their space.”
"The most effective ways to get teens to open up … may depend on their age. Older adolescents, ages 17-18, were quicker to make emotional disclosures in conversations where mothers were highly validating, surprisingly, however they were also more likely to open up when mothers expressed negative emotions than when they simply remained neutral.”
“Past research finds that younger adolescents, ages 13-14, report being less likely to disclose personal information to their parents if they seemed preoccupied, distrusting, dismissive or prone to emotional outbursts. However, when parents were accessible and calm, gave good advice and offered reciprocal disclosures about their own lives, these teens reported being more apt to talk.”
“The parents who know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and support.”
“Unconditionally means: ‘I understand what you’re going through I’m not going anywhere, and you’re OK just the way you are.’” … “But that doesn’t mean unconditional acceptance of risky behaviors.”
“Maintaining a strong parent-child bond does more than keep teens safe during these critical years It models what healthy relationships look like.”
How To Talk To Your Kids About Sexual Abuse
Looking back on the Larry Nassar scandal, we spoke to experts about how to address these difficult issues with kids of all ages.
By Caroline Bologna
This article is the fifth installment of “One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen,” a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last year and faced their abuser, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Read more: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. On Jan. 16, 2018, the world witnessed the gut-wrenching statements of 169 women and family members whose lives were affected by the criminal sexual abuse of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University trainer Larry Nassar.
Stories like the Nassar scandal reinforce parents’ and caregivers’ desire to protect their children from a horror that is all too common.
Child sexual abuse may be scary to think about, but it’s an important topic to address with kids of all ages. Fortunately, there are age-appropriate ways to lay the foundation and build on concepts that will help keep children safe and empower them to speak out if their boundaries are violated.
HuffPost spoke to sex educators about how to talk to kids about sexual abuse from infancy to the teen years, and how to recognize and respond to troubling situations if they arise.
Start Early By Establishing Body Autonomy, Privacy And More
Parents can build the foundation of safety from sexual abuse as early as infancy, sex educator Melissa Carnagey said. Using the proper terms for genitals, instead of cutesy nicknames, empowers children to communicate clearly about themselves and their bodies.
“By doing this, parents are creating a shame-free and open home culture around talking about the body,” Carnagey told HuffPost in an email. “Then as the child moves into toddlerhood and preschool ages, parents can help them understand body boundaries and consent by listening to a child’s ‘no’ or ‘stop’ and reinforcing the importance of the child respecting other people’s limits as well.”
“Preventative conversations with young children around sexual abuse aren’t usually about sexual abuse in specificity,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill said. She encouraged parents to talk instead about the proper names for body parts, as well as body autonomy, body privacy, environmental privacy, how to say “no” and the difference between secrets and surprises.
“Body autonomy means acknowledging each person is the boss of their own body and they get to decide what they want to do with it, as long as they don’t use it to hurt someone else or themselves,” Cavill told HuffPost in an email. “Body privacy means teaching children that some parts of their bodies are private and other people shouldn’t look at them or touch them. Doctors should ask permission before examining private parts and a trusted grown up should be present.“
“Environmental privacy” means teaching kids about the social norms and expectations around different behaviors, like how to change into swimsuits at the community pool, how to behave in public restrooms, how to change clothes at school, and so on.
Teaching kids how to say “no” is also powerful.
“Children don’t always assume it’s OK to say ‘no,’ especially to adults, because they’re often taught to be obedient,” Cavill said. “We have to explicitly teach children how to set boundaries for themselves and support them when they do, even if it puts us into uncomfortable situations, like refusing to give hugs at a birthday party.”
Talk About Feelings
“When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them, especially when something or someone feels uncomfortable,” Carnagey said.
“We have to be talking about what feels good and what doesn’t in everyday conversations,” sex educator Lydia Bowers told HuffPost. “‘I like when you give me a hug, it makes me feel warm,’ and ‘I don’t like when he took my doll, I felt angry,’ give children the language to describe their feelings, which can be critical in recognizing if they’re feeling unsafe, scared or worried.”
When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them. Melissa Carnagey, sex educator
It’s meaningful to help kids practice identifying feelings like fear, anxiety, confusion, sadness and discomfort, and adults should try not to dismiss or minimize those emotions when a child expresses them.
Parents can also teach children about the ways bodies can give warning signs in relation to feelings (like sweaty palms, wanting to cry or feeling the sudden need to urinate) that are important to listen to.
Explain ‘Unsafe Touch’
Sex educators generally consider the terms “safe touch” and “unsafe touch” to be better than “good” and “bad” touch. It may be easy to classify being touched around your private parts as an example of “bad touch,” but sometimes there are natural physiological responses that could feel good, which may seem confusing to young people.
“Unsafe touch” can also cover certain forms of contact that might be “good” in other contexts. “A hug is a ‘good’ touch, but if it is coming from someone that shouldn’t be hugging you, then it is ‘unsafe,’” Bowers said.
“People can also seem ‘good’ but can make unsafe choices,” Carnagey said. “So it’s best to use the terms ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe,’ and base your conversations around the child recognizing the circumstances that affect safety.”
Don’t Just Focus On ‘Stranger Danger’
“Children used to be taught the concept of ‘stranger danger,’ but the Nassar case is a good example of the flaw in that concept,” Carnagey said. “An abuser is more often someone that a child knows or has some kind of prior connection with, so we must talk to children in terms of ‘tricky people,’ a term coined by Pattie Fitzgerald.”
This approach encourages parents to help their children recognize “tricky” or unsafe behavior versus trustworthy behavior.
“People who are trustworthy tell the truth, respect privacy, don’t ask children to keep secrets, ask grown-ups for help (not children), give you a safe feeling (not a scary ‘uh-oh’ feeling), follow family rules, and ask you to check with parents to get permission,” said Cavill, who created a podcast episode and a worksheet to help parents facilitate conversations about trust. “Tricky people don’t do those things, or they do the opposite of those things.”
Emphasize They Can Always Come To You
It’s important for parents to “keep the conversation door open,” Cavill said. “Kids will walk through that door to talk with you, but only if it’s open all of the time.” Parents can create that kind of environment by consistently welcoming questions and conversations about sex and relationships.
In a lot of ways, actions speak louder than words. The phrase “You can tell me anything” loses its meaning if parents respond to honest questions or information from children with punishments, aggressive reactions, elevated emotional responses or dismissiveness. Parents should be aware of their verbal and nonverbal responses, even when the conversation is difficult ? or children may start to feel uncomfortable sharing information out of fear of the adult’s reaction.
The phrase “You can tell me anything” loses its meaning if parents respond to honest questions or information from children with punishments, aggressive reactions, elevated emotional responses or dismissiveness.
“If children disclose abuse, it’s important to remember to center the child in the conversation, not the abuser or our reaction to the disclosure,” Cavill said. “This can be very difficult to do, but it’s important because reacting to disclosures of abuse with anger, disgust, shame, or denial violates our children’s trust, shuts down further conversations, and makes a vulnerable child more vulnerable.”
“The first time I was molested, I was 9. I disclosed that abuse, but was met with denial and a cover-up,” she continued. “When I was subjected to further abuse, I didn’t bother telling anyone because I’d been conditioned to expect protection for my abuser and none for myself. This contributed to an overall sense that, deep down, I deserved it.”
Identify Trusted Adults
As kids get older, parents should help them identify the trusted adults in their lives, like other family members, teachers and school counselors. “Instead of assigning the label of ‘trusted adult’ to people in their world, ask the child, ‘Who do you feel you could trust if you needed help?’ or ‘Who would you feel comfortable talking to if you ever felt hurt and needed help?’” Carnagey said. “Having more than one is ideal to ensure they have available supports when needed,” she added. Abusers are sometimes seen as trusted adults (as Nassar was for many families), so it’s helpful for kids to have a variety of people they can turn to.
Identifying multiple trusted adults can also help ease the challenges parents face. Just as kids need to know they can be honest about their experiences without being punished, parents need to be honest in turn. That can mean admitting when they feel vulnerable, when they make mistakes, when they don’t know things and when they need to seek additional support.
Make It Clear It’s Never Their Fault
Kids need to know they aren’t responsible for the adults around them, including their parents.
“Because children are dependent on adults to various degrees, they can feel responsible for the feelings and behaviors of the adults around them, especially those in formal positions of authority and those they care about deeply,”
Cavill said. “Unfortunately, most sexual abuse happens within the context of close, familiar relationships and the #MeToo movement speaks to how common it is for people in positions of authority to abuse people they have power over.” Cavill said she reaffirms to her young children that they are responsible for themselves, not the people around them, by telling them: “
Mommy’s feelings are mommy’s job. You don’t have to fix them, they aren’t your responsibility.”
Parents can build on these messages as kids mature by talking about examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships and family expectations about behavior in romantic relationships. The website Talk With Your Kids offers resources to help guide these discussions.
Just as it’s important for children to know it’s not their fault if they experience unsafe touch, it’s also necessary to talk about respecting the boundaries and consent of others.
It’s “not uncommon for young children to experiment with initiating touch that could be unsafe to other children around the same age,” Carnagey said. “Even if that occurs, a child feeling safe to talk about it without fear of punishment, is integral in the process of redirecting the behavior toward safer interactions with others.”
Pay Attention To The Signs
Parents know what is typical behavior for their children, so they can be on the lookout for changes that may be a sign of something problematic.
“I want to make it very clear that there is no minimum threshold for seeking the services of a therapist, or calling RAINN. When in doubt, ask for help,” Cavill said. “That being said, there are some general signs parents should watch out for: sexual knowledge or behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age, regressive bed wetting, a sudden refusal to change clothing or undress, sudden fear of being alone or away from primary caregivers, and an increase in anxiety.”
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network publishes a list of warning signs to help determine if an adult is molesting or grooming children. These possible indicators of sexual abuse can be physical (unexplained bruising, bleeding or irritation to a child’s genital areas, for instance), behavioral (such as talking about sexual acts, as Cavill noted, or suddenly becoming shy about undressing), or emotional (like an increase in worrying, nightmares or fear of being alone). As kids get older, they start to have more interactions outside the presence of their parents ? at school, in extracurriculars and during play dates. Carnagey encourages parents to set up a routine, uninterrupted time each day to check in with their children so they can stay connected to their kids’ experiences and feelings.
“This is great for noticing any subtle or big shifts in their mood or behaviors that can result from unsafe or challenging experiences,” she said. “Keeping an open, shame-free space for talks, no matter the topic, can increase the chance that a child will share with a trusted adult if something troubling is going on in their world.”
Know What To Do If Something Happens
If a child reports unsafe touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault. Responding with love, compassion and acceptance is very important.
“Children often feel that they caused abuse, and perpetrators sometimes put the blame on the child,” Bowers said. “Reassure a child that they are not to blame, that they are loved and safe.”
If a child reports unsafe touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault.
There are many helpful resources to help guide survivors and the trusted adults they tell about the abuse. RAINN and the organization 1in6 run hotlines and online chat services. Other organizations focus specifically on child sexual abuse, like Childhelp, National Children’s Alliance and Stop It Now! Cavill noted that if you feel a child is in immediate danger, you should call emergency services.
“Honest communication is important to maintaining trust and openness after a disclosure, so this can mean letting the child know that you may have to share the information with other adults whose job is to help keep them safe, like a medical provider if an exam is needed, a police officer, counselor or other trusted support,” Carnagey said. “Keeping a listening ear, without judgment or harsh reaction, will help the child feel more comfortable opening up.”
Carnagey also recommended that parents and caregivers seek out their own support, since disclosures can bring up a range of difficult emotions and even trigger past traumas. A parent or caregiver may feel tempted to turn inward, isolate themselves and allow feelings of shame or failure to take over. “Parents should keep in mind that what another person may have done to their child was the unsafe decision of that person. It is not the parent’s fault,” Carnagey said. “A child who experiences unsafe touch is not ‘damaged.’ With support, the child and their family absolutely have an opportunity to thrive.”
“One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen” is a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last January and read powerful victim impact statements to former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Their words made history, forcing the country to finally listen and confront the abuse Nassar perpetrated. This series highlights the people who helped take Nassar down, as well as those he hurt for so long.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.