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Sexual Abuse – What to Know and What to Do

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Sexual Abuse – What to Know and What to Do

I am a mother of six, educator, mentor to Au Pairs and Host Families with Go Au Pair and adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Did you know that all states require caregivers to report suspected child sexual abuse. Caregivers, babysitters, nannies and even teachers are the first line of defense to protect our children. Careful screening of those in contact with our kids is step one. Education is step two to address this age-old problem, not just for adults who care for kids but the kids themselves. Lives are literally on the line.

Nobody wants to tell their kids that someone they know might try to touch them in a way that is inappropriate. It’s terrifying. More importantly, kids need to know they can talk to parents, caregivers and trusted adults, about whatever is going on in their lives. Kids need to understand that no adult has any good reason to see, touch or show any private parts unless it is a parent or pediatrician checking out a problem area.

What should adults say to kids?

Talk honestly with young children but do not scare them with graphic language or details.

Make sure kids know their body is private and sacred. No person has the right to touch or make another person feel uncomfortable. Kids should know it is okay to say no to an adult and seek out a safe adult and safe place if they ever feel uncomfortable with an adult, even if it’s someone they know.

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Keep honest and open lines of communication with your kids, or kids in your care, so they know they can talk to you about any topic without judgment.

What should adults watch for in other adults?

Adults who show too much interest in kids or who always seem to be interacting with kids may warrant attention, particularly if that adult is ever alone with children.

If kids need to be left alone with an adult, take steps to ensure a door is left open or have the adult work with more than one student or be within hearing or vision of another adult. (Rule of Three)

If an adult seeks the “help” of children with the exclusion of other adults, this may be a red flag. Abusers often build trust in their victim before ever doing anything abusive. This does not mean we should watch out for every adult our kids trust, just be aware.

What should adults watch for in kids?

Kids who are at risk for abuse may not stand out from their peers, but abusers can spot them. Potential victims are children who may want or enjoy individual attention, have family problems or issues at home, or are in a “special” trust-relationship with any adult (such as teacher, parent, caregiver).

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Behavioral characteristics:

Abused children will almost always show behavioral signs that an astute adult can pick up. Always be aware of any change in normal behavior, like a drop in grades, lack of interest in normally fun activities, lack of interaction at home and school, and particularly any hesitation, fear or refusal to go or stay with someone who would normally be a trusted adult.

This should warrant a conversation about what is going on and an opening up of the lines of communication. Always be willing to listen to your child when they tell you they don’t want to stay with someone. As a child of abuse myself, I can clearly remember asking to go on errands and not be left alone with my abuser, a step-parent and trusted adult in my life.

Physical characteristics:

There may be actual physical signs of sexual abuse, such as lost or soiled underwear, unexplained bleeding and unexplained or repeated urinary tract or yeast infections, particularly in a pre-teen child. Any signs of these should be further investigated. A trip to the pediatrician, who can also be a trusted adult, may help clear up what is going on.

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What if you suspect abuse?

Action is step three.

Never ignore your gut feeling or worse, ignore something you see or hear that is inappropriate contact between an adult and a child. If sexual abuse is suspected, you may be required by law to report it to the police or child welfare authorities.

Any person who is in the position of caregiver to a child suspected of being abused is required to report it, by law in all 50 states. You might begin with a discussion with the child to determine if he or she will disclose any abuse or not. Children will often deny the abuse for many different reasons, but if enough suspicion is there, it’s best to have the child checked by your pediatrician, who will be able to determine to at least some degree if there has been sexual abuse.

What if a child discloses abuse?

Call the police and make sure the child is safe. If a child discloses abuse, he or she should receive counseling and support for the short and long term, ensuring the child can recover both physically and emotionally from this devastating childhood trauma. There is no reason to avoid calling the police, even if the child does not want to press charges.

The police will conduct an investigation to determine if charges will be brought, but there is no good reason to keep suspected abuse to yourself. When confronted, many abusers may say it only happened once or will never happen again, but statistics have proven this to be mostly untrue.

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An abused child needs to be loved and supported, no matter what he or she says about the abuse or the abuser, as there may be a myriad of emotional issues to face down the road, including healthy relationships and sexual enjoyment.

Parents of abused children may need to attend support groups or counseling to deal with their own emotional reactions and to discover ways to provide the help their child will need. Seek the help of your family doctor, pediatrician, local church or therapist to guide you and your family to positive healing and the ability to move forward.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

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Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.

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“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]

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“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!

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4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

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