Child abuse is an age-old controversy; one that still continues to plague society. As an early childhood educator, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on child abuse and I’ve talked about in my sessions as well.One aspect that always makes me uneasy is that we, as parents, teachers or guides, are well aware of the consequences of child abuse, but do we understand the
cause that leads to the abuse?
To truly tackle the issue, I find that it is important for us to first accept our shortcomings. What is lacking in the upbringing we provide to children that prevents us from understanding and tackling child abuse? We teach children the perils of playing with fire to safeguard themfrom getting burned.
Accordingly, we need to consider how we can safeguard them from abuse.
We need to start talking about it. We hesitate to talk to our children about sexuality because it makes us uncomfortable. This unintentionally leads to children being unable to face these predators due to a lack of awareness. And when these situations occur, we panic.
Sex education can be a difficult topic to approach, but it is a must. Somehow, sex education has become synonymous with ‘reproduction science’. Parents often associate sex education with addressing the classic question, “Where do babies come from?”. However, the answers to “How did papa put the baby in your tummy?”, “Why do people kiss?”, “What are sanitary pads?” and so on, aren’t enough to qualify as sex education.
We need to take a look at sex education from a different perspective. When children are born, we talk to them, trying to help them understand with simple yet relevant vocabulary. Words like ‘mummy’, ‘papa’, ‘milk’, ‘water’, are the common ones. When it comes to their bodies, we use vocabulary like ‘hand’, ‘finger’, ‘mouth’, ‘ear’, but we sheepishly avoid words like ‘vagina’, ‘penis’, ‘anus’ and ‘breast’, replacing them with lingo like ‘that’, ‘pee-pee’, ‘toto’ and so on. We subconsciously teach our children to be embarrassed by such words, and when they grow up, they propagate the same embarrassment and forced obliviousness that prevents them from
learning what they need to learn.
We need to move ahead of this immature tomfoolery. Even if society cringes in worry of children using these terms in public, we can take the necessary steps to help children understand why they need to restrict their usage of such terms in public. We can inform children that such words can seem inappropriate under certain circumstances and that they should only use them when they need to explain or know something of informational value.
Once children learn the appropriate vocabulary, we can talk about the functions of the various body parts. We can explain that while certain parts expel waste, their functions are not dirty, but rather critical to the body’s daily functioning. Additionally, we need to inform them that even though the body parts are not dirty, the waste that comes out, urine or faeces, should not be played with as it is unhygienic. We should strive to match this level of preciseness when explaining the body to our children.
It’s about breaking through our own limitations. Once we cross the barrier of our own apprehensions, we will be ready to share more insights on sex education, beyond the physical act.
We can then create an awareness in children that promotes meaningful learning about themselves and their feelings. This can help them understand what puberty means as well as the physical and associated hormonal changes that will take place as they grow up.
When we have these conversations with children, it is important to remember the following:
We should share our views from an objective standpoint.
We should listen patiently to the child’s views and concerns.
We should refrain from defining what is wrong and right, and instead, listen to what the child thinks.
We should share our experiences, limitations, family views in a positive manner and try to avoid the use of threats, bribes and impositions during the conversation.
At the end of the day, we should create an open channel of communication with children. My advice is to enjoy the topic, look for opportunities to bring about a greater exposure, try to create a space for discussion and help create a better understanding. We can use current events, movies and our
own experiences to create a standpoint to learn from.
Now that the topic of ‘sex’ is beyond the ‘physical act’, relish the openness of it. Open communication can be of great use in families and it can aid discussions on sexual abuse and how to prevent it.